Bible classes and the right to freedom
by Hilda Raja on 19 Apr 2009 4 Comments

When non-Christian students are compelled to attend Bible classes, it is coercion and force: It means denying them their right to FREEDOM.

This has to stop: the compulsory Bible classes for non-Christian students. It has been quietly going on in every Christian school. Only at college level do Catholic students have Catholic doctrine; other Christian students have Bible classes, and the rest have ethics. But Hindu students are free to attend Bible classes or Catholic doctrine.

In Tamil Nadu, I am aware that in schools run by the minorities, it is again the same story - all have to attend daily Christian prayers. They are even taken to the nearby church for prayers. When the school celebrates Mass on feast days all children have to attend. The schools are government-aided and I do not see why this is allowed. On the other hand, Hindu private institutions cannot compel children to attend Hindu instructions.

This has been allowed to go on unquestioned for too long. The fact that Minority rights to manage and administer education institutions are Fundamental Rights does not give them the right to compel students others than its own denomination to attend Christian services and Christian doctrine classes. This is a violation of other Fundamental Rights and an abuse and misuse of Minority rights.

No single Right is superior to another Right, but must go hand in hand; Minority Rights cannot supersede other Fundamental Rights like Equality and Freedom. When non-Christian students are compelled to attend Bible classes, it is coercion and force. It means denying them their right to FREEDOM. Knowing well the power of education, Fr. Jerome D’Souza, a member of the Constituent Assembly, made a powerful demand for conferring on minorities this Right and cleverly got it enshrined in the Fundamental Rights. He did not want Reserved Constituencies for Christians.

Coming to the present day, compelling children to attend Bible classes, something that was quietly going on but has now caught the attention of non-Christians, this is the most blatant and dangerous of all proselytization methods carried out in the country, and inflicts irreparable damage because it violates the human right of the child and creates a schizophrenic personality. The child sees and hears something in school but at home is exposed to some thing different. This confuses the young mind. The number of minority schools keeps increasing and correlates with the damage to young minds. We face the results in the indifference of young people towards their own religion. But what has happened to parents and responsible citizens of this country?

The rationale for conferring of Minority Rights was justified on grounds that minorities need to protect their religious ‘ethos.’ But in all minority institutions, non-minorities form the majority, so whose ethos has to be safeguarded within these campuses? The injustice wrought on the people - both minority and non-minority by Minority Rights needs a separate write up.

This is only to high light the case of the student of Bishop Cotton School, Bangalore. Today with communalism based on creed invading every aspect of people’s lives, Christian schools, evangelists, both missionary and career ones, are geared up with their crusading propaganda. The political scenario is best suited to their insidious designs. Being a Christian/Muslim is being secular; anything associated with Christian and Muslim teachings and propaganda means the spread of secularism. Anything associated with Hindu religion and its religious teachings becomes communal-Hindutva.

Hence madrasas are being financed by taxpayer money, and that is secularism. Minority education institutions are aided - full salaries of staff and their pensions are State financed. In this scenario, what is the role of parents of non-Christian students? Parents are prepared to pay heavy sums as donation to get their children admitted in Minority-run institutions. Parents do not object if their children are made to attend Bible classes and religious services in these schools. The compulsory indoctrination is overlooked by parents. So I will say that if parents are not bothered what their children learn, if parents are not bothered of their own culture and religion, what is the solution?

Speaking English with an anglicized accent is a sign of being well-educated. Speaking in the mother tongue is looked down upon. While the speaking of any language is a skill and a positive acquisition, this cannot be done at the cost of the mother tongue, by the displacement of one’s own mother tongue. The power of having education institutions is tremendous and that is exactly why the first Marxist government which came to power in 1955 in Kerala focused on minority institutions as one of their first priorities. They wanted to nationalize all schools but had to quickly withdraw because a people’s movement started which led to an agitation in which large numbers of children took part and courted arrest. What is the remedy?

1] The creation of awareness at grassroots’ level. This is tedious, strenuous and time-consuming, but will pay in the long run.

2] A cadre of dedicated workers to be trained

3] Parents groups to be formed and periodical interaction with them

4] Schools to be opened and run efficiently with an Indian ethos. Here in Gujarat, my grandchildren are attending a school, Nalanda, wherein an Indian ethos is well maintained, be it in its curriculum, co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities. No religious instruction is being imparted, but the school environ speaks. Such schools must be opened are in high demand because of their efficiency and dedication to learning.

5] A think tank to be formed to be vigilant and monitor activities in Minority educational institutions. Cases of coercion, compulsion and brainwashing to be picked up and cases filed in the name of Human Rights violations. This may start as a trickle in the beginning but will gather momentum. The Bishop Cotton School case can be the first PIL provided parents co-operate.

6] Cultivate the media and provide it with case studies.

7] Keep the public informed how its tax money is being misused through an information cell.  Information is power.

A detailed study of the impact of Minority Rights on the Minorities themselves and the non-minorities must be taken up after the General Elections. This is because the majority of the minorities are denied admissions in these elite minority education institutions; similarly, the minority institutions also do not follow the reservation policy in the strict sense, but

The author is a retired Professor from Stella Maris College, Chennai, and lives in Vadodara

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