03/23/2005, 00.00
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Indian Bishop wants help for Christian and Muslim Dalits penalised by corruption

by Nirmala Carvalho
Mgr Oswald Gracias, the newly-elected President of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, and sociologist SM Michael ask the government to take concrete steps to protect minorities against Hindutva and 'human weaknesses', i.e. corruption in public service.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The creation of a National Commission for the Socially and Economically Backward Sections of India's religious and linguistic minorities is a very positive step but implementing good intentions should not be left unfinished, Mgr Oswald Gracias, the newly-elected President of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, told AsiaNews.

The Commission, which was set up by the current Singh administration, is headed by former Chief Justice of India Ranganath Misra. It was tasked to suggest criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections and recommend measures to improve their welfare, including quotas in education and government employment

Archbishop Gracias is happy that the commission was created but warns against possible delays due to what he calls 'human weaknesses' that prevent measures in favour of the marginalised, especially Dalits, from being implemented.

"Very often, while our governments adopt laws to help the marginalised, there often arises a problem with the implementation process," Archbishop Gracias said. "These are due to human weaknesses which very often prevent good projects from being executed. [For this reason,] we need to have systems in place [. . .] closely monitored by people with integrity."

Although Christian and Muslim Dalits do not enjoy the same rights as Hindu Dalits, Archbishop Gracias is not only concerned about Christians. "I am more interested that all the weaker sections benefit by this," he said. "I would like the welfare schemes to be all inclusive—they should include the physically, intellectually and mentally challenged as well as the economically backward. Quotas in education and government employment will empower the marginalized sections of society."

The Indian government has also recently decided to officially recognise educational institutions run by minorities and is planning to review the school curriculum which, under the previous BJP government, was heavily influenced by Hindutva, the Hindu nationalist ideology.

According to SM Michael, professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Mumbai, these positive steps should include 50 per cent quotas for minority students in institutions of higher learning "to cater to more of our own students and equip them with professional and managerial" skills.

As to the Commission, the Indian sociologist said that "it is the need of the hour. However, his "main concern is that the criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities [might lead to] many discrepancies [. . .] in the compilation of data," he said.

"In the past," the sociologist noted, "many schemes turn into scams."

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