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Indian bishops call on Church-run schools to promote harmony

Catholic educational institutions recently faced wrath of right-wing Hindu groups over alleged religious conversions
College students with painted faces spread awareness on March 19 for first generation voters during an election campaign ahead of India's upcoming national elections in Chennai

College students with painted faces spread awareness on March 19 for first generation voters during an election campaign ahead of India's upcoming national elections in Chennai. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 05, 2024 06:47 AM GMT
Updated: April 05, 2024 07:31 AM GMT

Catholic bishops have called on thousands of Church-run schools in India to promote religious harmony after the institutions faced the ire of right-wing Hindu groups over alleged religious conversions.

“We need to respect all faith traditions without discrimination,” the bishops said in guidelines issued to schools on April 1. 

“Our primary objective behind issuing the guidelines is to inform about our legacy to our students and teachers,” Father Maria Charles, secretary of the Office of Education and Culture of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told UCA News on April 4.

The Church runs more than 50,000 educational institutions, including schools and 400 colleges, six universities and six medical schools.

“These guidelines are applicable to our higher education institutions as well,” Charles said.

“We plan to promote inclusiveness in our academic institutions.”

The bishops wanted daily recitation of the preamble of the constitution which says India is a “secular socialist democratic nation” in the assemblies.

On several occasions, the prelates have strongly denied allegations of religious conversion by Hindu groups and have termed them as “false propaganda to tarnish the image of Christian schools.”

Recently, Christian schools in the northeastern state of Assam came in for a co-ordinated attack by right-wing Hindu groups who wanted to remove all Christian symbols from Christian schools.

They demanded priests, nuns and religious brothers working in these schools to wear traditional dress instead of religious habits.

Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have enacted a draconian anti-conversion law.

Persecution and violence against Christians have increased since 2014, when Modi first came to power. Modi is seeking a third consecutive term in office with the general election due to take place between April 19 and June 1.

“Now we see a social awakening within society and a change in perception. Therefore, it is imperative to issue these guidelines,” Charles said.

The bishops in their 13-page guideline urged schools to “promote diversity.”

The bishops have also issued a seven-page checklist for Catholic educational institutions to avoid unwarranted troubles.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people and more than 80 percent are Hindus.

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1 Comments on this Story
ISAAC GOMES
CBCI's 13-page Recommendation to Catholic / Church-run educational institutions are quite appropriate even though it has come at a time when the situation in several states has become very testing. However, this 13-page "Recommendation" is not available on the CBCI website. Why so much hush-hush by CBCI when various news media starting with the Indian Express, NDTV, etc have the details? Why has the CBCI restricted its recommendation only to (1) display of the Preamble to India's Constitution at the main school gate (2) Regular recital thereof during the morning assembly? What about CBCI recommending the study of the Indian Constitution (other than memorizing and reciting the Preamble) in our schools, colleges and universities on a continuous basis, in easily understandable forms e.g. short sequential series? This series could be on (a) our Fundamental Rights and Duties and (b) Directive Principles of State Policy - Part IV of the Constitution of India (Article 36–51). The short series could be designed say 20 series for primary schools (4-5), 30 series for secondary schools (6-10), 40 series for higher secondary schools (11-12), and 60 series in colleges & universities. All the series should be sequential with provision for recapitulation on previous lessons. Handouts / soft copies in English and vernaculars would facilitate reinforcement of the knowledge and reference in future. For the whole exercise professional assistance of proven lawyers (there are some who pose as lawyers) must be taken and their fees must be provided in the annual budget by CBCI or Diocesan Finance Committees. There is little that Church-run schools can do to CONTROL fundamentalist forces, especially when they are backed by local governments. The incidents in Assam and Tripura confirm this. Also since more than ninety per cent students in Church-run educational institutions are from non-Christian communities (which pay full fees and other donations), it is quite obvious the parents / guardians from these paying communities will insist on the full pound of flesh. Increasingly representation of Christian students is decreasing in Church-run colleges and universities (at least in the Bengal). Weren’t our institutions were founded primarily for students from our community? There is need for serious introspection. One cannot serve two masters (Christ and the Mammon). Conversely one cannot both have the cake and eat it too! The paying public from non-Christian denominations will take its toll by imposition of their cultures & practices!! Satya Ranjan Borah President of Guwahati-based right-wing group Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (KSP) wanting a meeting with the CBCI to seek “clarification” on “other” issues of concern flagged by it, is a clear indicator of the writing on the wall for Church-run institutes. The KSP was among a group of organisations associated with the Sangh Parivar to have set a 15-day ultimatum in February to missionary-run education institutes in Assam to spell out their stand on why their teachers and staff should “wear religious dress, install statues of Jesus and Mary or the Cross and build Churches in their educational institutes”. Readers may refer to a report link on this in the Telegraph Online dated 05 April 2024 https://www.telegraphindia.com/north-east/catholic-bishops-conference-of-indias-new-guidelines-for-catholic-schools/cid/2011258 One very strange stance by the CBCI is why is it so silent on the Constitutional provisions of Article 30? What is its legal team doing?
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