India announces minorities quota

Indian Muslims
Image caption Muslims are India's biggest minority group

India's government says a proportion of government jobs and seats in state-run education centres will be reserved for minority groups.

It ordered 4.5% of government jobs and education places to be reserved.

Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) are the main minorities in India.

The new quota for minorities will be carved from an existing quota reserved for caste grouping called Other Backward Classes (OBC).

The announcement by the Congress party-led government ahead of the crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh - which has a substantial Muslim population - is considered to be politically significant.

Correspondents say the quota is mainly targeted at wooing the Muslim minorities, who make up 18% of the state's 200 million people and hold the key in nearly a fifth of its assembly constituencies.

"This is merely a political gimmick on [the] part of the Congress to woo Muslim minorities ahead of the assembly poll," founder of the All India Muslim Forum Nehalluddin Ahmed told The Times Of India newspaper.

Muslims comprise over 13% of India's billion-strong population, but are under-represented in government jobs, bureaucracy and the police, studies have found. A third of the population also lives below the poverty line.

Though India's constitution is silent on reservation of jobs and school places on the basis of religion, nine states have already implemented similar quotas for minorities.

The Congress party had promised a quota for economically-deprived members of the Muslim community in its election manifesto in 2009.

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