03/04/2005, 00.00
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No government aid for Christian Dalit in 2005 budget

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Indian government's economic plan includes aid for young Muslims, but nothing for young Christians. Help is needed to fight poverty among Christian Dalit and Tribals, says John Dayal.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India's 2005-2006 Union budget singles out social discrimination as an ill to be tackled but does little for Christians. The budget which Finance Minister PC Chidambaram presented to parliament on February 28 met with the approval of India's financial markets and industrial sector, but left Christians unhappy.

The financial document lays out plans for the development of rural areas takes steps to encourage foreign investment but does not allocate any money for rural Christians, 'the poorest among the poor'.

Speaking to AsiaNews, John Dayal, secretary of the National Integration Council, laments the "budget should have provided funds for Christian economic empowerment".

"This budget," explains Mr Dayal, who is also chairman of the All India Christian Council, "has provisions for the advancement of Muslim youth, but there is nothing for Christian youth".

The 2001 Census showed that Christians living in rural areas live in wretched conditions, "particularly Tribal (Adivasi) and Dalit youth professing the Christian faith."

For the human rights activist, Christian youth need better education and training to help them become self-employed and start their own businesses in the crafts trade. "All this requires an infusion of state funds, apart from efforts by the community itself," Mr Dalay said.

To prove his point, he highlighted the fact that out of the 5 billion rupees allocated to the National Fund for Minority Development, nothing goes to Christians.

One provision was however good: funds set aside for women and children, which in a small way will benefit Christian women and children.

Despite these misgivings, the plan by the government of the United Progressive Alliance UPA) to publish a White Paper on the status of minority communities is welcome.

"The Christian community has welcomed the Union government's promise to publish a White Paper on the status of minority communities and [adopt] a comprehensive law to deal with communal violence," Mr Dayal said.

As a sign of hope, he quoted current Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, who said: "it was not enough for India to shine if it did not shine for all."

Finance Minister Chidambram's economic programme focuses on rural areas but has not left out trade and industry.

For the first time, this budget highlights the important role direct foreign investment plays in India's economy.

In accordance with the UPA's Common Minimum Programme, Mr Chidambram launched the National Rural Health Mission to strengthen primary health services across the country.

Other important measures include an additional 20 billion rupees allocated to health care and families and 7.79 per cent increase in the defence budget.

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