Indian school children in Mumbai in this file photo taken in 2015. Government school students in India's Madhya Pradesh state need to say a patriotic slogan during attendance roll calls. (Photo by Punit Paranjpe/AFP)
A directive for government school students in India's Madhya Pradesh state to respond with a patriotic slogan called 'Jai Hind' (hail India) during attendance roll calls has been criticized by Catholic Church leaders.
On May 15 the education department said the government had decided to make the slogan compulsory for government schools from the start of a new academic year in June.
"This is a misplaced idea of patriotism," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, head of the bishops' council in the region.
The commonly used slogan Jai Hind emerged during India's independence struggle and continues to be raised at the end of national anthem. However, Hind is a shortened form of Hindustan (land of Hindus) that excludes India's religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.
The central Indian state's government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has exempted privately managed schools such as Church schools from the new practice.
But an official source seeking anonymity told ucanews.com the government exempted private schools fearing a backlash as state elections are due in December this year. The nine Catholic dioceses in the state run some 500 schools.
With all schools already saluting the national flag and singing the national anthem daily in schools, the prelate dismissed the Jai Hind slogan requirement.
"It is ridiculous," Archbishop Leo said. He added that such demands were meant to push a skewed sense of nationhood, which negated the idea of an inclusive society that accepted people of all religions and cultures.
Leaders of religious minorities such as Archbishop Leo have been complaining more widely over the BJP's pro-Hindu dominance policies and stances.
Archbishop Leo said government schools have students from various religious communities and that such slogans, instead of promoting patriotism, would create divisions by implanting notions of religious discrimination in young minds.
Education minister Vijay Shah in September outlined the intention for the Jai Hind slogan to be adopted in schools.
Father Babu Joseph, former spokesperson of the national bishops' conference now based in Madhya Pradesh, said patriotism — a sense of pride in being a citizen of nation — should develop naturally rather than being forced on people.
"But in this case, a particular ideology is promoted in the name of patriotism," he said.
"It is not desirable, especially in schools."