Business of education in the name of minority rights
by R L Francis on 02 Aug 2010 5 Comments

Justice Ranganath Misra Commission report has caught the attention of the entire country. It has strengthened the demand of the Church and Christian organizations to provide reservation for Dalit Christians. They are holding rallies and meetings to pressurise the Centre to implement the Misra Commission report.


The question arises whether the Church and these Christian organisations have ever thought of first giving admission to students and recruiting teachers from their own community in missionary-run schools. The fact of the matter is that the percentage of Christian students and teachers in these schools is negligible. They run the schools and educational institutions just to do business and earn profits, instead of doing service to their own community.


Interestingly, all governments at the Centre, irrespective of the political party, have tried to appease the Church and Christian organisations. The policies of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have not been very different regarding the Church and Christian organisations.


It may be mentioned that the “National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions” had recently proclaimed its verdict that the number of students from a minority community is not a valid basis for granting or taking away recognition of a minority institution. The status of a minority institute will remain intact whatever be the number of non-minority community students in the institution. This decision is contrary to an earlier verdict of the apex court in which minority institutions were directed to fill a certain limit of total admissions by minority community students.


The UPA constituted the National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions (NCMEI) in 2004 for the sake of convenience to minority educational institutions under the stewardship of former judge, Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui. Minority communities have freedom under Article 30 of the Constitution to establish and run their own educational institutions. Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are running a large number of minority educational institutions under the Act.


The basic objective behind giving these special rights under Article 30 of the Constitution was to promote the language, script, culture and religious education of the community. However, Indian Church and Christian Missionaries misused this right to fulfill their own agenda after independence. They often used this right as a tool for expansion. The Church has gained much by granting admissions to children of high profile politicians and bureaucrats in their 5-star convent schools.


Lots of cases against arbitrary decisions have come to the Supreme Court. The Court had said that minority educational institutions will have to take care of students of minority communities to a certain level. These institutions will be free to admit children of non-minority community but in no circumstances can they overlook the interests of students of the minority community. If a minority educational institution is found violating this order, its minority status could be withdrawn. The Court even said that if the State Governments want, they can decide a certain percentage of seats for students of the minority communities for such institutions.


Complaints of Sikh and Muslim students not getting admission in their own institutions are rare. Indeed this problem persists only with institutions run by the Church. The Church has laid a web of educational institution across the country. The influence of the Church can be ascertained from the fact that the Christian community which is merely 2.5 percent of the population has a monopoly over 22 percent of educational institutions – yet even then about 15 percent of Christian children in cities and 40 percent in rural areas are illiterate! Convent schools administered and run by the Church do not give admission to poor Christian children at all.


At a programme organised by the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) in the national capital region of Delhi, a Dalit Christian leader said, “The Christian educational institutions are here to serve the rich, instead of the poor Christians. Even in metros like Delhi, the number of Christian students in these institutions is negligible. The special rights entrusted by the Constitution are being used to churn money and for the expansion of the Churches.” Had the Church played its role honestly, it would not have to demand inclusion of its followers in the list of Scheduled Caste and notifying of the Ranganath Misra Commission report.


Several complaints of this nature were constantly made to the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. Keeping this in mind, The Telegraph, Kolkata, on March 7, 2010 published an article quoting Chairman Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui, “The educational institutions run by the Indian Church should have at least 30 percent Christian students and if this is violated such institutions will loose their minority institution status.”


Echoing the same view, the Supreme Court had said in its 2005 verdict that the benefit of minority education institutions should necessarily percolate to those community students in the name of whose progress they have been established. The NCMEI Chairman said, “Educational institutions of Sikh and Muslim community are giving maximum benefit to the students of their community. Here, the problem lies with the institutions run by Christians. So the National Commission for Minority Educational Institution has ratified this proposal that those Christian educational institutions that fail to maintain minimum 30 percent Christian students will loose their minority status.”


The entire Indian Church establishment openly stood against this order of NCMEI. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the Commission for Education and Culture, expressed serious disagreement before the Prime Minister and Education Minister against the verdict of the Commission fixing the minimum limit of minority students in church-run institutes. The CBCI said Article 30 (1) of the Constitution gave them the right to run their institutions and there was no percentage fixed to get minority status.


Since then NCMEI began looking for a way out to change its decision, and got an opportunity after a controversy between a Church-run school and the Odisha government broke out. The Odisha government had alleged that the percentage of Christian students in the school was very less and so the minority status of the school should be withdrawn. NCMEI smelt an opportunity to change its earlier decision and in a single stroke stated that no minimum percentage is required to run a minority school!!!


Human Rights activist Joseph Gathia believes that the right to run educational institutions was given keeping certain responsibilities in mind. The aim was to promote the interests of backwards and poorer sections of the community by their own community, so that they could stand with equal footing with relatively well-off communities. It will not be unconstitutional to impose some restrictions in order to stop the misuse of this privilege. Taking legal recourse on denying admissions to minority students falls in the same domain. Joseph Gathia says that if the Indian Church does not want to run these institutions for its own community, for whom does or what does it want to run these institutions? 


Should the decision of NCMEI and the flimsy logic put forward by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and Commission for Education and Culture before the Prime Minister – that no percentage was fixed in the constitution – be construed as a guarantee to open education institutions in every nook and corner of the country by misusing constitutional provisions for churning money? There are hundreds of convent schools like Saint Columba’s, Jesus and Mary, Mater Dei, Saint Thomas which are being run in and around Delhi under minority status. Has the government ever bothered to find out the percentage of the minority community in these educational institutions?


One example will suffice. Saint Thomas school in the national capital region has around 1500 students; the Christian students are less than 50. Similarly, in Khatauli near Delhi, there are hardly any Catholic families but there is a convent school. The question arises - if students and teachers in these schools are not Christian, then for the conservation of which religion, language and culture is the Church availing of minority rights?


Vested interest groups are exploiting loopholes in the constitutional provisions for their own expansion. The objective of the constitutional provision was to promote the legitimate interests of the minority and not to give vested interests the freedom to run commercial educational institutions in the name of minority educational institutions.


The Church and Christian organisations should introspect and evolve a road map for the betterment of poor Christians. Instead of asking the Centre to implement the Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Misra Commission), the Church should first ensure adequate quota for students and teachers of its own community in missionary-run schools. Otherwise, its credibility will be further eroded.


The author is national president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement 

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