Catholic schools forced to display Hindu deities in Bastar

Story as published in Matters India on  November 24, 2014

Story By: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Raipur: Catholic missionaries in a central Indian region have agreed to put up photographs of a Hindu goddess and “great personalities who have worked for national interest” in their educational institutions.

The Church workers in Bastar region in Chhattisgarh state have also succumbed to the pressure from the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council) go use Indian terms to address school principals, The Indian Express reported.

Instead of “Father,” the principals would now be addressed as “Acharya,” “up-acharya” or just Sir, says a statement issued by VHP’s Bastar district president Suresh Yadav and Father Abraham Kannmpala, spokesperson of Bastar Catholic community.

It said the Church workers of Jagdalpur diocese agreed to these conditions.

The Catholic Church manages 22 schools in the tribal district of Bastar, spread over an area bigger than the southern Indian state of Kerala that has sent most of the missionaries now working in the region.

The statement says the schools will inform the students about the change through notice boards and morning assemblies.

“The Catholic community expresses regret if any community, religion or society was hurt by our community,” the statement adds.

While the VHP has been targeting missionaries for long over issues in Bastar, and “Ghar Vapasi” programs have been undertaken in interior villages to reconvert neo-Christians, the recent controversy began a few days ago when, during an address in Bastar, the Jagdalpur bishop said a missionary school should be established with every church in the region.

The VHP immediately dispatched a letter to the Bastar Commissioner, with copies to the state’s chief minister and the governor, saying “the address aimed to promote communalism and narrow-mindedness.” The letter also alleged instances when “Christian missionaries put non-democratic pressure on Hindu society and administration on the pretext of education.”

The VHP demanded that “Father be immediately replaced by Pracharya or Guruji” and statues of “Maa Saraswati be installed.”

In Sunday’s statement, the missionaries clarified that “they have no intention” to follow the bishop’s suggestion.

 Asserting that the statement “upholds the sentiments of Hindu students and community,” VHP leader Yadav justified the demand that principals not be called Father, saying they had been seeking it for long.

“We asked these missionaries what was the meaning of father? Father means pita. We have only one father, how can we address a teacher as father?”

They said that their Bible says so, and that they consider God father. We asked them that Bible is a religious book, why do they bring it to educational institutions?” he said.

“In other English-medium schools, no one uses Father for teacher. Why only here? Addressing a teacher as father puts emotional pressure on students and their parents,” he added.

Yadav said there was no contradiction in calling Saraswati “Maa,” (mother) though. “Maa and behenji are words of respect. We address older women as mataji, younger women as behenji. Matayen aur behanen, we say before any address. But we never address an old man as pita.”

The spokesperson for the Bastar Catholic Community said they didn’t intend to hurt anyone. “We never pressure anyone to say Father. We also agreed to install statues of Saraswati and noted personalities. We already have their photographs in our schools.”

About the bishop’s address, Father Kannampala said he had given the example of Kerala where churches set up educational institutes when the state had poor education. “There was no intention to hurt anyone’s feelings,” he said.-

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