Empowerment should go beyond the marriage scheme: activists
Even as political parties in the State are engaged in a war of words on whether the Shaadi Bhagya scheme amounts to “minority appeasement”, the target fixed for the districts by the Directorate of Minority Welfare is limited.
The physical and financial target of beneficiaries earmarked for this financial year under the scheme is 1,000, which will cost the Exchequer about Rs. 5 crore at the rate of Rs. 50,000 per beneficiary.
Subject to 13 conditions, the scheme promises household goods and cash to Muslim brides from economically backward families.
The circular sent by the Directorate of Minority Welfare to the deputy commissioners makes it clear that the number of beneficiaries cannot cross the target and the “poorest” have to be selected from among the applicants. The district-wise break-up shows that the highest beneficiary target set is for Bangalore city at 135 and the lowest Chamarajanagar at six.
Syed Mohammed Iqbal, general secretary of the Karnataka Muslim Muttahida Mahaz (an umbrella organisation comprising 28 groups), welcomed the new scheme but said that the target is limiting. “It should have been at least 10 times more, considering that the poverty ratio among Muslims is high,” he said. The Muslim population in the State is pegged at 64.63 lakh.
Mr. Iqbal underlined the fact that the money being spent on the scheme was not a new allocation, but from within the existing budget of the Karnataka Minority Development Corporation. “So the argument that it leaves out other communities does not hold water,” he said.
A section of Muslims also feels that schemes of this kind serve a narrow purpose. K.M. Ashraf, State secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, said that while the scheme is welcome, it should be need-based rather than have fixed targets. “The government should come up with a comprehensive package based on the Sachar committee recommendations as promised in the budget,” he said.
Writer, activist and advocate Banu Mushtaq said that while popular schemes such as the Shaadi Bhagya come and go with governments, the real need is for sustained programmes that empower women. “We need campaigns that make marriage itself a matter of choice for a woman,” she said and added that only strong educational and skill-development initiatives can help achieve that.
“Women should be able to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman on an equal footing, rather than one that involves ‘give-and-take’ of the monetary kind,” Ms. Mushtaq said.
Shahanaz M., president of Sahana Women’s Counselling Centre and editor of the magazine, Anupama, says that while extending a helping hand during marriage is a good gesture, there should be emphasis on issues such as dowry harassment and domestic violence. “On priority, we need a legal system that empowers women,” she said.