Church leaders plan to move court against harassment of schools

Christian leaders say Hindu fanatics attack their people and influence state government and policies to harass Christians.

By reporter

Christian leaders in Madhya Pradesh have accused the state administration of harassing their schools in a veiled attack on mission activities, and threatened to move court to protect their rights.

In the latest incident, the Indore district collector asked two Catholic schools–St. Mary Senior Secondary School and Rajeshwar Higher Secondary School—to explain why they increased tuition fees.

Bishop ChackoThottumaricakal of Indore told ucanewsthe collector "seemed be acting under pressure from the hostile elements, rather than on his own”.

The prelate viewed this as part of an organized ongoing move against Christians. Without naming any particular group, the bishop said groups "inimical to the Church" have been active in the state for over a decade now. 

Christian leaders say Hindu fanatics attack their people and influence state government and policies to harass Christians ever since the pro-Hindu BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) came to power in the state in 2003.

Bishop Thottumaricakal said the collector's move was illegal as Indian constitution guarantees religious and linguistic minorities the freedom to independently establish and manage educational institutions aiming to help their people.

He said the Christian schools enjoy full right to decide the fees and other issues related to the management of their school independently. The courts have upheld Christians’ right to run their institutions without any interference from the government, he noted.

Attacking Christian educational institutions is part of a strategy to attack Christian mission in the state, said Father Thomas Attummel, Regional Education Secretary. 

The priest, who coordinates education mission of the Church in the state, said schools are "the most known face" and "the most acclaimed service" of the Church in the state.

"If Christian education mission is devalued, tarnished and demolished, you can effectively cut the influence of the Church. So this must be seen a veiled attack on the mission of the church," he said.

Father Attummel said the Catholic schools are not getting any financial aid from the government and there are court orders against state interfering in the management of these schools. The collector seeking explanation can "amount to contempt of court," the priest said.

The priest wondered why the administration was not bothered about other schools that charge exorbitantly, violating a state government order that regulate the fees in private schools.

He said the Church schools will move court if the government continued to harass the schools.

However, Collector P. Narhari justified his action. 

“I have acted under the administrative capacity after getting complaints from some aggrieved parents. I do not find any illegality in it,” he said. 

Deepak Vijayvargya, BJP's spokesperson in the state, denied the allegation that the party and the government works against Christians. 

He, however justified the collector saying "it is the duty of the collector to look into public complaints to ensure peace and harmony."

When pointed out that Christian schools frequently get such notices from administration, Vijayvargya said that it is because Christian schools admit lots of poor children, which is the "beauty of Christian schools."

"But look, the rich do not mind a hike of few thousand rupees. But the poor will complain about even a little hike," he explained why complaints are filed against Christian schools and not against those charge exorbitant fees. 

Meanwhile, the school officials said that the administration found fault with the fee hike, but did not say who complained about it.

Principal of Rajeshwar Higher Secondary School Father Patric Jacob agreed. He said his school has been providing "quality education at cheapest rate” for the past 132 years. 

The school of some 2,000 students "is one of the oldest schools in the region," he said. 

He said his school charges 18,000 to 21,000 rupees (US$300-350) from grade 1 to 12 compared to other private schools in the area, which charges up to four times that amount. He said a hike of 25 percent was agreed in consultation with parent-teacher association of the school to comply with a federal guideline on teachers' salary.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), an umbrella body that governs schools affiliated to it, has asked to enhance the salaries of the teachers and other facilities. The school had no means other than fees hike, the priest said.

But it was done in a totally transparent way with the consent of the Parent Teachers Association, agreed, Anoop Batha, a parent "Even after the hike, it provides quality education at the cheapest cost," Batha said.

Sister Elsa Gonsalves, principal of St. Mary Senior Secondary School, said the case is same with her school, which the congregation of St Mary of Angels began 123 years ago. 

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