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Right to be a Minority institution (and make majority profits)

July 7, 2012

Recently Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri, the Karnataka Education Minister has announced that an institution would require to have at least 75% of it’s students from a particular minority community, if it wishes to obtain a tag of ‘minority institution’. All such ‘minority institutions’ would be exempt from RTE coverage, meaning they would not have to provide 25% of the seats of ‘Economically Weaker Students’ (EWS). This has caused a furore in the media in Karnataka with newspapers citing the example of Tamil Nadu, where the criterion for minority status is 50% of the student body. Some have further gone on to accuse Kageri of not explaining his logic of 75% for Karnataka and others have used the old trick of foisting their opinion through “sources”. Eg :- “Some officials though, said 50% would have been better.” Firstly, nobody knows who this “official” is. Secondly, there is no explanation of how 50% would be better – because it is so in Tamil Nadu? Well, Tamil Nadu’s policies are not quite based on exemplary application of rational thought and logic – be it free TVs and grinders or chasing away Sri Lankan trainees. But I digress. Since our journalists have not had the time or inclination to apply their minds to this 75% cut-off, let me try and help.

Just to set the context right, minorities can be primarily on the basis of two parameters – religion and language. Religions which would qualify would be Muslim, Christian, Jain and Sikh. Similarly, languages which could practically make the cut in Karnataka are Tamil, Telugu, Tulu, Marathi, Kodava, Konkani and Malayalam. A cursory glance at Karnataka’s demographic distribution would show there is no secular (pardon the pun) distribution of minorities in the state and Karnataka is a reasonably sized state with the distance between the Northern and Souther tip being close to 900kms.

Coming to the numbers now. (Note: I am using professional colleges as metric as data on schools is limited) In terms of Medical colleges there are 9 minority institutions in Karnataka of which 2 are religious minority and 7 are linguistic minority. On dental colleges the break-up is 3 to 7 in favour of linguistic minority.  The mix is altered in case of Engineering colleges with 10 being religious minority and 5 being linguistic. So in total we have 34 minority professional colleges in Karnataka. Contrast this with Tamil Nadu – there are 86, yes 86 minority Engineering colleges alone in Tamil Nadu (what how long the list would be if we added medical and other colleges to this!). Predominantly these are religious minorities –  ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’, with a few linguistic minority (mostly Telugu with the odd Gujarati!) thrown in. Also, am sure none of these ‘minority’ institutions have a ‘minority student’ populace of over 25%. The court has only given directions that the ‘minority management’ can distribute a proportion of the seats to individuals as per their discretion, which may not necessarily be to those belonging to the ‘minority community’. Nobody really ‘serves’ the minorities.

Most new educational institutions are started by those with political links. Unlike in Tamil Nadu, the number of dangerously religious brand of vote-bank politics is not as prevalent in Karnataka, especially of the Christian variety. Clearly, the minority mindset and politics of minoritism is in currency in Tamil Nadu and no political establishment wants to antagonise these ‘communities’. Hence the liberal 50% number for RTE.

The more important aspect is the demographic distribution amongst linguistic minorities in Karnataka. A 6% Tamil population doesn’t mean that each district in Karnataka as a 4-8% Tamil population. Reality is that 20-25% of Bangalore is Tamil and there is no significant Tamil presence in 25 of Karnataka’s 30 districts. Similarly, Tulu speakers are concentrated in 2 coastal districts and likewise Marathi speakers are mostly in Belgaum. If indeed I want to serve a particular community – linguistic or religious, I would have to set up shop in that specific area / location where the population is concentrated. In such areas, the ‘minority’ population would be well in excess of 80%. Many villages in Kolar speak only Telugu and localities in Bangalore such as Frazer town would be almost fully Tamil speaking.  So, even if my classroom is representative of the local demographic, I would be a minority institution. However, if I locate my institution in an area where the minority population is much smaller, the size of my institution would have to match the needs of the locals ‘minority’ population, if my intention is to genuinely to help minorities. If I have an institution where the intake is 1000 and minority population is 500, my intention would not be to cater to minority alone.

The concept of ‘minority institution’ itself is debatable. If indeed the idea is to preserve my ‘minority’ culture, why would an institution recruit any non-minority students. If I want to promote multi-culturalism why would I want the “minority” tag? Ideally the cut-off should be 100%. Nevertheless, a 75% cut-off seems more reasonable than 50% and especially so in Karnataka.

Footnotes:

– The Karnataka Education Minister’s Children study in a Government run Kannada medium school in a village in Uttara Kannada district. For less informed journo friends, the district precedes Goa as you go up the Konkan coast.

– Union Minorities Minister runs a very successful education franchise which is indeed benefiting a minority; the owners of the school and in some cases, the highly privileged students. The franchise is called ‘Delhi Public School’.

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