India’s federal commission tasked with safeguarding religious minorities has called for the establishment of government-funded universities primarily for Christians. But not all Christians support the proposal. The National Commission for Minorities
in its Jan. 13 annual report said such an initiative would be in keeping with the already existing state-funded Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. The commission sought a seven-year financial assistance program to establish new universities for Christian communities, who already run their own educational and health care facilities. Commission chair Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi said new government-funded universities could prioritize the education of Christians while also admitting students from other faiths. The commission said the government should collaborate with the Catholic Church in India, which runs some 400 colleges and 15,000 of 36,000 Christian-managed schools. “It is a welcome step and universities dedicated to Christians could help the educational advancement of financially poor Christians,” said Bishop Vincent Barwa, who heads the India bishops’ office for lower caste and ethnic minority Christians. India has about 27 million Christians and 60 percent of them are socially poor Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, as well as tribal people. Christians, although only a tiny minority in India’s 1.2 billion population, are the second-largest religious community after some 172 million Muslims. Some see politics in the call for Christian universities. “It will not come through,” said Brother Thomas Thanickal, who heads an association of Catholic schools in India. “It is just an attempt to appease Christians ahead of elections in some key states this year and general elections next year.” Brother Thanickal said the federal government, which is led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party
, has tacitly approved of militant Hindu groups harassing and trying to control Christian schools. Some Christian activists openly oppose the idea of universities being established for Christians. P.T. John, general secretary of a tea planters’ union in the southern Indian state of Kerala, said it would be tantamount to isolating Christians from the social mainstream. He said Muslim universities were established in the context of past needs.
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“In modern times, it is absurd to have educational institutions in the name of religion,” he said. “I am an Indian and therefore I have every right to study in any mainstream university and seek a job anywhere.” Mathew Thomas, a Christian student in a Delhi college, said no university could legally deny admission to people based on their religion, so there was no need to create artificial divisions. Catholic congregations run three universities in India without government funding and admit students of different faiths. Jesuits run Xavier University in eastern Odisha state and Salesians manage Don Bosco University in eastern Assam state, while Carmelites of Mary Immaculate priests in Karnataka state run Christ University
. The National Commission for Minorities aims to protect India’s disparate religious groups, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.