Modi’s latest budget cuts a death Knell for Indian Muslims and Minorities

As against the mounting, violent threats to the lives of Muslims, Christians, and other minorities in India, it is easy to lose sight of other more workaday threats to minorities in India’s increasingly Hindu supremacist regime. But death by a thousand cuts is still death — and the Indian government’s recent announcement of a $225 million budget cut to the Ministry of Minority Affairs could spell the end for an institution that has helped millions of Indian minorities obtain education and job training they would have never otherwise been able to afford.

These latest cuts, amounting to a whopping 38% of last year’s budget, culminate decades of the Modi regime’s systemic starvation of affirmative action programs. Indian critics and scholars fear it will mean the end of the Ministry, which was founded in 2006 in response to a government report that found Muslims had the lowest educational attainment and among the lowest economic attainment of any demographic group in India.

The Ministry sought to reverse these imbalances by underwriting tens of millions of scholarships for Muslim students, who as India’s largest minority population are also by far its largest scholarship beneficiaries, as well as other religious minorities, including Christians, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

Hindu extremist groups who have openly called for the mass killing of Muslims, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have for years demanded the wholesale elimination of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Coming shortly after Modi’s political party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Hijab ban in Karnataka state, a policy that has already caused thousands of girls to drop out of school, the cut has been widely denounced by critics as another Islamophobic, anti-minority education policy.

“The cessation of this fellowship will contribute to the assault on the education of Muslim women, which began in Karnataka, and on the rise of young, educated, and persuasive minority women,” said senior researcher A. Suneetha, commenting on the elimination of a popular Ministry of Minority Affairs scholarship. These latest cuts “signal to minorities that their presence in higher educational spaces is not necessary. It also signals that the country belongs to the majority, which is a message that the ruling dispensation has been conveying repeatedly,” she added.

Among the largest cuts is a 93% reduction in the funding for madrasas, schools run by Muslims, and other minority schools. The cuts also entirely eliminates the ‘Nai Udaan’ scholarship, which supported minority students in preparing for civil service examinations, the “pre-matric”, or Grades 1-8, scholarships, and the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), which provides five-year of full funding for minority students pursuing masters and PhD programs.

According to Business Insider India, 60% of the ministry’s enormous 30 million scholarships had gone to women as of 2019. Testimony from scholarship beneficiaries show just how vital this support has been. For many, government support has meant the difference between studying, advancing to higher-paying jobs, and lifting their families out of poverty — or not.

For Abida Khatoon, who was accepted into a Ph.D. program in Jamia Millia Islamia (a central university) in New Delhi, a scholarship from the Ministry of Minority Affairs would have meant financial independence, the capacity to take her own decisions and study full-time. But with the scrapping of the MANF scholarship, it will be difficult for her to afford the program she was accepted into.

“I felt demoralized after the scrapping of the MANF,” said Khatoon. “My parents were happy when they realized that they no longer needed to spend on my education, but in fact, I am disappointed and their happiness may end soon.”

“Even if we belong to a society where it is not normal for girls to get an education beyond graduation and Master, financial independence gets her respect and honor… I think this is a blow to the agency of Muslim women,” she said.

“I could not have reached this stage without the assistance I received from the government,” said Mohammad Sohail Ahmad in an interview with the Indian newspaper The Hindu. Mohammad is a first-generation college student studying medicine who received the Naya Savera studies after an injury prevented his father from being able to support his family.

Zahid Iqbal, a second-year history scholar from Kashmir, told the Indian newspaper The South First, “There is constant psychological pressure as my food, clothing, and shelter expenditure are dependent solely on the MANF scholarship amount. If I do not pay my house rent in time, my landowner will ask me to vacate the premises.”

Millions of students will miss out from the massive cuts to the budget, but critics say they aren’t the only ones who will suffer. Indian opposition politician Kunwar Danish Ali told The Hindu, “Don’t forget that educated children take the country forward irrespective of the community they belong to.”

Under Modi’s leadership in his former role as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the government of Gujarat challenged the constitutionality of scholarships for Muslim students, despite India’s constitutionally enshrined right to affirmative action. As Prime Minister, Modi also cut the Maulana Azad Medical Aid Scheme, which provided two fully-funded medical check-ups per year to minority students, and has consistently failed to utilize the full funds with which Ministry programs had been provided.

Although India has a longer history of enforcing quotas for minorities in hiring and education than the United States, critics say the Modi and BJP-led Indian government are more interested in anti-Minority measures than pursuing programs that benefit the whole country.

Ex-IPS (Indian Police Service) officer Abdur Rahman who resigned from his post in protest against the controversial ‘Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019’ opines, “Under the Modi govt, every discussion of progress and empowerment of Minorities is taking last breath. BJP is against all forms of empowerment of Muslims and due to this mentality, not only the Ministry of Minority Affairs will be closed one day but Muslims will be reduced to 2nd class citizen.” Rahman is also the author of the book, ‘Denial and Deprivation: Indian Muslims After the Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra Commission Reports’

A senior professor from Jamia Millia Islamia who asked to remain anonymous said, “Financial support to students is essential in order to carry on their research. Not only will their performance suffer from these cuts, but also the quality of research and programs. The bitter truth is that the BJP (Modi’s political party) government thinks that minorities are not needed for India altogether.”

Modi’s latest budget cuts a death Knell for Indian Muslims and Minorities

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