Friday, August 29, 2008

Nearly 45,000 Christian schools and colleges closed Friday

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Nearly 45,000 schools, colleges and other educational institutes run by Christian organisations around the country were closed Friday to protest the continued violence against the community in Orissa.

"All our schools and colleges are closed today (Friday). Let me clarify, survival is more important than education," said Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

He said they are holding a peaceful protest to voice concern against continued violence against the community in Orissa, where at least 11 people have died in communal violence since Saturday evening.

"There is almost an ethnic cleansing in the state," Joseph told IANS.

Orissa has been on the boil since Saturday when Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four others were killed at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal district.

His killing triggered violence in the state against the Christian community by some Hindu groups.

Joseph said there are around five million students studying in these 45,000 institutions and this protest will certainly bring spotlight on the issue.

He said their community members have carried out protest marches across the country.

In Delhi scores of Christians marched to Orissa Bhawan, the office of the state resident commissioner, to protest the violence. Several schools and colleges like St. Stephens College, St Columba’s School and Somerville School were closed for the day.

"Our teachers told us Thursday that our school is closed Friday," said Astha Singh, a student of Somerville School in east Delhi.

Similarly institutions run by missionaries in Shimla, Dharamsala and Dalhousie towns in Himachal Pradseh remained closed.

"The college is closed to express solidarity for the violence victims,’ said Shimla’s St. Bede’s principal Sister Melba.

A group of Christian leaders had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday and appraised him about the situation in Orissa. Joseph said the prime minister had assured them the government would "take all steps to bring peace and normalcy".

In Kerala, around 5,900 educational institutions remained closed. The institutions in Kerala included four medical colleges and 11 engineering colleges run by the Catholic Church.

Other Christian denominations like the Church of South India (CSI) and Marthoma Syrian Church joined the protest against the violence.

"All those attending our institutions will attend work wearing black badges,’ said an official of Marthoma Church at its headquarters in Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district.

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