Catholic schools to teach India's secular constitution

Indian bishops aim to develop a generation who appreciate equality for all
Catholic schools to teach India's secular constitution

A file image of an Indian school student holding her hand-made national flag during celebrations for India's Independence Day at a school in Kolkata. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

All Catholic schools in India will educate their students about the country's constitution amid claims by hard-line Hindu groups that church leaders promoting human rights and secularism are attempting to destabilize the country at the behest of the Vatican.

The office for education and culture of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India issued a module June 11 to use in all Catholic educational institutions during the academic year starting June-July.

"In this first stage, we have decided to focus on the preamble of the constitution," said Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta, who heads the education and culture office.

In its preamble, India's constitution presents the country as "a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic" which will secure social and economic justice, liberty of thought and religion, equality and human dignity for its citizens.

"We generally teach students everything but not the values of constitution, our sacred book," said Archbishop D'Souza.

He said the church's effort is to develop a generation of Indians who accept the values of equality for all beyond the differences of caste, religion and wealth.

The Catholic Church in India runs more than 50,000 education institutions including 400 colleges, six universities and six medical schools.

Father Jomon James, manager of St. Arnold Co-ed School Palda in the central Indian city of Indore, said constitutional values help children "accept and appreciate difference of cultures, languages, caste and ethnicity that we have in abundance."

"Our constitution is the only binding force that keeps us all together," he said.

The constitution was proclaimed three years after India gained freedom from the British in 1947.

Indian bishops have been prodding local Catholics to support the constitution's ideals for the past six years. In a statement issued after their 2012 biennial meeting, the bishops said Indians "yearn for the ideal enshrined in the preamble of the constitution."

Several church groups have since held meetings about how to study and educate others on the constitution's values, how to stress equality, justice and the religious freedom of the people, particularly of the socially poor Dalit and indigenous peoples.

Recently two archbishops issued separate pastoral letters that stressed the human rights, secular and democratic ideals of the constitution, which irked leaders of India's ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Following the letters, some BJP leaders accused church leaders of trying to influence voters against the ruling party ahead of 2019 national elections. Local church officials have also been accused of tarnishing the image of India at the behest of the Vatican.

After coming to power in 2014, the BJP government has been facing criticism from rights groups and secularists, who say it tacitly supports Hindu groups who commit violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

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The BJP has also been accused of striving to make India a Hindus-only nation.

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