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Church struggles against Indian state's stifling education order

The new law in Kerala violates minorities' rights to establish and manage educational institutions

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: March 11, 2021 08:19 AM GMT

Updated: March 11, 2021 09:10 AM GMT

Church struggles against Indian state's stifling education order

Students and officials of Sahrdaya College, an engineering college run by the Archdiocese of Trichur in Kerala, pose for a photograph (Photo: www.sahrdaya.ac.in)

Catholic Church leaders are up in arms against a government ordinance in India's Kerala state, saying it infringes on their constitutional right to manage educational institutions.

“The new ordinance will adversely affect the functioning of colleges we fund and manage in the state,” said Archbishop Andrews Thazath, chairman of the public affairs commission of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Church leaders, who studied the law for three weeks after it was promulgated on Feb. 20, say they plan to join other groups to move court seeking the withdrawal of the law.

The law promulgated by the communist-led government in the southern state stipulates that all self-financing colleges, funded and managed by private entities, should follow state guidelines on the appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff and their service conditions.

Church leaders say it takes away the right of self-financing colleges to appoint staff and decide independently the payments, transfer, leave, promotions and other service conditions of staff.

They want the government to withdraw the law, saying it violates the constitutional rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and manage educational institutions for the betterment of their communities.

The federal government’s national education policy gives more freedom to private players in education but the Kerala government is trying to stifle this freedom, Archbishop Thazath told UCA News on March 9.

The state has hundreds of private higher education institutions run by religious groups besides Christians. Church leaders plan to join others to challenge the ordinance in Kerala High Court to ensure their constitutional rights.

The notification makes it mandatory to strictly follow government guidelines for advertising vacancies and appointing staff based on merit through an established process.

All private colleges and institutions of higher education in the state, both state-aided and self-financed, need to be affiliated with a state-run university for the state to recognize its students' achievements.

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The new law says staff service conditions and entitlement also need to follow a pattern established in the state. All disputes should be settled by the decision of the state-run university to which a private college is affiliated.

"This leaves little scope for private management to take even disciplinary action against a staff member," Father Charles Leo, secretary of the education commission of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, told UCA News.

“The government order has blatantly violated minorities’ rights to establish and manage an education institution. 

“With the new law, it is almost impossible to appoint even an office assistant or take disciplinary action against a staff member without outside inference and it will hinder the quality of our institutions."

Father Alex Onampally, secretary of the Syro-Malabar media commission, told UCA News that the ordinance, if not withdrawn immediately, “will further deteriorate the standard of private education in the state.”

“Other states in the country help private players with liberal policies to promote investment in the education sector, especially in higher education, to ease the burden on the state,” he said.

“The state’s new law aims to reduce private higher education institutions to mere agencies to facilitate the interests of state-run universities.

“If the state fails to repeal the order, our students will have to move to other states for quality higher education, and they will have to shell out more money.”

Archbishop Thazhath also criticized the state government for not consulting stakeholders while formulating the order.

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