Hard-line Hindu group seeks shutdown of educational institutions belonging to religious minorities
Two girls pass by the gate of St. Columba's School in New Delhi. Irish Christian Brothers established the school in 1941. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Muslim and Christian leaders in India see danger in a pro-Hindu group's demand that the government revoke a policy allowing minority groups to own and manage educational institutions in the country.
A report released Oct. 10 by the Centre for Policy Analysis, a think tank of hard-line Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, stated that allowing religious minority groups to have institutions for their own people was tantamount to "compartmentalization" that works against the unity of India.
"There is no rationale for the existence of a separate wing for education of minorities such as [the] National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions in the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Aren't such types of national level regulating bodies compartmentalizing education on religious lines and weakening the national mainstream?" asked the report.
The Centre for Policy Analysis wants the government to discontinue the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, a legal body that advises the federal and state government on issues related to minority institutions.
Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta, who chairs the Indian bishops' office for education, said the demand goes against the provisions of the Indian constitution that allows religious minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice to help advancement of their community members.
"In effect, they are asking to change the Indian constitution," the archbishop told ucanews.com.
Technically, the Hindu group has only asked to close down the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. But by de facto the demand is to remove the provision to have minority institutions as the commission is the authority to grant minority status to an educational institution.
Established in 2004, the commission functions under the Ministry of Minority Affairs which this year has allocated 2.4 billion rupees (US$ 337 million) for educational reforms, including special grants and scholarships.
"All Indians, particularly religious minorities, should be afraid about such demands," Archbishop D'Souza said.
Some 220 million people or 18.4 percent of 1.2 billion Indians are officially considered part of a religious minority. Some 140 million Muslims, the largest minority, constitute 13.4 percent of the population, while 27 million Christians (2.3 percent) are the second largest minority group. Other religious minorities are Sikhs (1.9 percent) Buddhists (0.8 percent) and Parsis (0.07 percent) of the country's total population.
Molvi Javaid Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who runs a Madrassa in India's northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, said educating and empowering people "isn't an act of charity. It's a governmental duty to ensure that communities are uplifted and allowed to prosper."
Ahmad said official censuses have shown that Indian religious minorities are educationally poor. "In order to make India a developed nation, it has to facilitate the education of these disadvantaged communities," he said.
The 2011 national census report showed that only 53 percent of Indian Muslims are literate, against the national average of 74 percent. The literacy rate is 68 percent among Sikhs, 72 among for Buddhists and 74 percent for Christians.
Christian leader Joseph Dias based in western Mumbai city told ucanews.com the think tank's report is aimed at "polarizing people" on religious lines ahead of the national elections due in next May.
"Catholic institutions keep a high standard … And, a huge majority of students in them are non-Christians. So doing away with such institutions will hit the majority community more than minorities," Dais said.
The country needs such skilled and professional educational institutions, he said. "Unless there is any parallel infrastructure of that level, it is futile to even discuss anything like this," Dais added.
The Catholic Church in India runs some 50,000 educational institutions including 400 colleges, six universities and six medical schools.
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