Monday, April 18, 2016

Official panel upsets church leaders in central India

A official panel has recommended that the minority status given to educational institutions in India's Madhya Pradesh state be reassessed, a move that church leaders said is part of an anti-Christian agenda pushed by the state's ruling Hindu nationalist party.

The state minority commission, a government-appointed team to protect the interests of religious and linguistic minorities, last week recommended the government investigate the certificates of minority-run educational institutions in the state.

Church leaders said the commission's recommendation is aimed at curtailing the freedom and autonomy of their schools, which were established following a constitutional guarantee given to religious and linguistic minorities to establish and run such institutions.

A certified minority institution also enjoys certain amount of autonomy in staff appointments and student admissions.

The move can be seen as part of anti-Christian agenda and it "halt the standard of the education in the state," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal reacting to the news of the state minority commission's recommendation.

"It is highly disappointing to note that the minority panel has given a report against the minorities to the state government," said Father Maria Stephen, spokesman for the regional bishops' council.

"The minority commission is meant for protecting and promoting the welfare of the minority institutions but by this move it has failed to do its duty," Father Stephen said.

Violence against minorities

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has governed Madhya Pradesh since 2003; the state has witnessed several cases of violence against minority Christians and Muslims.

Christians and Muslims leaders say hard-line Hindu groups orchestrate violence with tacit government support.

Mumbai rights group Catholic Secular Forum in its annual report released in January said the state witnessed 29 major incidents of violence against Christians in 2015 alone.

Against such a background, church leaders believe a recommendation to scrutinize the already-awarded certificate will become a chance for Hindu hard-liners and their supporters in the bureaucracy to harasses missionaries and their schools.

However, state minority commission secretary Nisar Ahmed told that the commission's recommendation aims to root out corruption in awarding minority right certificates.

Some of the certificates have been suspected of being issued to "undeserving schools," said Ahmed.

A law stipulates that privately owned and managed schools should earmark 25 percent of seats to poor students from the locality and the government will pay for them.

But many such schools do not want to admit poor students as they think it will bring down the status of their institution, Ahmed said.

Minority schools are exempted from this law, Ahmed said.

He added that some "underserving private schools" have secured minority certificates to avoid admitting of poor students into their schools.

The commission recommended a "detailed probe into the minority right certificates issued to schools in the past three years and it has nothing to do with the church schools," he added.

However, Father Stephen said he remains unconvinced by Ahmed's explanation.

Christian leaders were "not taken into confidence" before making such a "recommendation for probe," said Father Stephen.

They have also not clarified which community has breached the guidelines, which he said, "paints a bad picture" of all the religious minorities.

Besides Christians and Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Jains are also recognized as minority communities in India who can establish and manage their own education institutions.

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