Keraleeyam: 10 questions that caught minister Radhakrishnan off guard

K Radhakrishnan Photo: Rahul R Pattom / Manorama
Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan. Photo: Rahul R Pattom/Manorama

At the Keraleeyam seminar on Thursday, 'Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of Kerala: Issues of Socio economic Development', the state government did what was expected of it.

Present Kerala as a model state for SC/ST development; the state with the lowest drop-out rates and school enrolment ratio among SC and ST students; the only state in the country that annually spends more for the SC and ST communities than their share in the population; the only state that had created 'study rooms' for SC/ST students; the only state with a pilot training scheme for SC/ST youth; the only state that sends SC/ST students to foreign universities and so on.

Eventually, when the presentations were over and the floor was open to the audience, what met the panellists was a volley of sharp and unsettling posers and observations that shook K Radhakrishnan, the Minister for Welfare of SC/STs and Backward Classes.

The minister, a man not known to lose his calm, seemed a bit provoked. He said people were being unnecessarily "negative". "We always look at things in a negative mood," he said.

The seminar was about "issues". But the minister seemed to insist that the discussion stick to only the "positive" things the government had done. "We need to understand what has been done," Radhakrishnan said. "This government could send 425 students to study in foreign universities in the past two years. Do you see it as a small thing? Has anyone here spoken about this in a positive light? You were only concerned about the negative things," he said.
Resentful, Radhakrishan launched into a lengthy account of his government's achievements. In the process, most of the questions were forgotten. 

10 disturbing questions
1) Why
has e-grantz not been made available to SC and ST students for the past two/three years? (e-grantz is an online centralised system for disbursement of scholarships/schemes for pre-matric and post-matric SC/ST and OBC students.) "The colleges are insisting on fees, and to complete their studies, the students are now forced to pay more than what the government had given them," a participant said.
2) Why are nearly 99 per cent of petrol pumps allotted to SC people at Tirur in Malappuram are run by benami operators? The original SC owners of these petrol pumps with a monthly turnover of six to seven lakhs now work as daily wagers or autorickshaw drivers to make ends meet. "What action can be taken against this," a delegate from Malappuram asked.
Another delegate flagged the same issue. "Before December 31 this year, 300 SC and ST men and women in Kerala would be allotted petrol pumps. If at least Rs 50 lakh is not immediately disbursed to them, these pumps will go into the hands of benamis," the delegate said.
3) Why is the Chakkiliyan community in Kottayam, Palakkad, Kozhikode and Ernakulam not been given their caste certificates? This was asked by none other than Bezwada Wilson, the founder of Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner. "These are very small things that we can immediately do," Wilson who joined online from Maharashtra told the minister. 
4) Why does Kerala continue to insist on collateral for schemes for the marginalised? This again was asked by Wilson. "To avail these attractive schemes, the beneficiaries have to provide collateral security in the form of land and property. Most marginalised may not be having all these things. How do we come out of that," he said.
5) Why is there no reservation for SC/ST candidates in the faculty of 164 aided colleges of Kerala? "There are many qualified SC and ST candidates and it would be a great service if these deserving candidates are offered a job in these colleges," said J S Jehangir, an English professor. If the reservation is not possible, another person wanted recruitment in aided colleges handed over to the Public Service Commission. 
6) Why can't the government share the burden, and provide special assistance to local bodies, if it is concerned about the welfare of SC/ST students? It was said by a councillor in north Kerala that new schemes for SC/ST students like meritorious scholarships and the purchase of laptops were imposing a huge financial burden on local bodies, causing them to spend double the amount allocated for them in the budget. 
7) Why is Kerala the only state that has not implemented the Public Procurement Policy for Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs)? Under the policy, every Central Government ministries, departments, and Public Sector Undertakings will have to procure a minimum of 25 per cent of their total annual value of goods or services from Micro and Small Enterprises, and of this, 4 per cent has to be from MSEs owned by SC/ST entrepreneurs.
8) Why can't Kerala tweak its policies to suit the SC/ST communities rather than impose its strategies on them? A telling example is the construction of concrete houses for tribals who want dwellings that are more adapted to their natural way of life.
9) Isn't the tendency to rehabilitate Dalits in colonies creating a new social divide? "There is increasing discrimination of Dalits living in colonies. Mainstream films stereotype colony residents. A popular film like 'RDX' shows colony people as dark, foul-mouthed and addicts," a young research student from a Dalit colony said. There are 26,198 Dalit colonies in Kerala.
10) How does a research scholar with a high qualification hope to secure a job as a lecturer in an aided college where a vacancy gets usurped for Rs 50-60 lakh and more? This was asked by a young female who had completed her PhD.

Job loss and positive thinking
Radhakrishnan was provoked most by the last question, and it was also the only poser he responded to in detail. Even Bezwada's was forgotten.
"Have all those who took a PhD become a lecturer," he asked. "Are SC/ST students the only PhD holders in Kerala? Do all PhD holders in other communities find a job?" he asked.

"There are thousands who have completed engineering in our society. The same is the case with medicine. Do all these graduates get a job the moment they pass out? There would have been some justification in what you said had you failed to get a job while everyone else had secured one," the minister said. 
The minister was speaking of a social phenomenon where there are educated unemployed in Kerala. The young SC doctorate holder, on the other hand, was speaking of the cruel reality of donations for teacher posts in aided colleges and how qualified candidates like her were losing out only because they were poor.

She wanted a way out and the minister sounded as if the young researcher had to get used to the depressing ways of the world. After he asked her to accept the reality, the minister wanted her to think positively. 
Here is the positive aspect the minister wanted the researcher to pull out of the gloom: The LDF government's decision to push the age limit for research for SC/ST students to first 40 and then 45 from 33 years. "Why were we doing all this but to create more research opportunities for students from these communities," he said.
The minister clearly missed the point. The young researcher was putting the spotlight on a second-generation issue, a job crisis, and the minister, instead of acknowledging it, felt offended.

Dream small, fly low
The greater surprise was that the minister wanted the PhD holder to settle for less. It was with pride he spoke of a PhD holder from a nomadic tribe in Pathanamthitta district. "He did not shut out other options saying he had done research. He wrote the PSC and got himself a job as a beat forest officer and now he is undergoing training," the minister said. 
The obvious question is why would a highly qualified man from a nomadic tribe settle for a job that requires just a class XII certificate or its equivalent. Why did the minister think that a beat forest officer job was enough for an academically accomplished youth from a nomadic tribe? Why wasn't he asked to aspire to higher things?

Benami oil men
The minister did respond to one more question. About 'benamis' taking over the petrol pumps allotted to SCs. "If anyone wants to start a petrol pump, you can approach the SC/ST Corporation for low-interest funds. You don't have to hand over your rights to benamis," he said.

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