An archbishop from the southern Indian state of Karnataka has come out with a strong statement following an ongoing controversy about a Christian school 'forcing students to buy Bibles and take them to class.'
“It has been brought to my notice that the Christian institutions are once again being targeted for conversion in the allegation of the children being forced to buy Bibles and bring them to schools in Bangalore. This allegation is false and misleading,” said Catholic Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore in a press statement, on April 26.
The ‘allegation’ is a part of the “hidden agenda” to discredit the good work done by the Christian minority, especially in the field of education, social and health care, he said.
"Let any member of the public provide even a single instance of conversion in hundreds of schools run by Christian managements in the last few decades," he declared.
The prelate, who is the president of the Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, said, “When our Christian minority institutions are rendering selfless services to society without any discrimination or partiality, leveling such false accusations and causing harassment by some fundamental groups and education department cannot be condoned.”
Clarence High School, a Bengaluru-based Anglo-Indian, minority institution was landed in the middle of another 'conversion' controversy after a right-wing group Hindu Janajagruti Samithi alleged a “religious conspiracy and coercion.”
The root of the controversy
The controversy erupted when the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (Forum to awaken Hindus) found an application form for Grade 11 admissions, which stated, "You affirm that your child will attend all classes including Morning Assembly Scripture Class and Clubs for his/her own moral and spiritual welfare and will not object to carrying the Bible and Hymn Book during his/her stay at Clarence High School (sic)."
The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that the school “violated and misused” Article 25 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of religion.
The Hindu right-wing group filed a complaint with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on April 22.
It was alleged that they were forcing students to learn the Bible.
On April 25, the NCPCR sent a letter to Bangalore Deputy Commissioner and Magistrate J Manjunath to initiate an inquiry and take appropriate action.
Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh said that no educational institution can force people to follow a certain religious practice.
He added that if an institution is found doing so, strict action will be taken against them.
However, according to News 18.com, the minister also said, “I heard that they are a law-abiding school. They have consulted their advocates on this matter and they will follow their advice.”
The school has clarified that no parent was coerced into signing the undertaking which mentioned that the child would have to compulsorily attend the Scriptures class as part of the curriculum.
George Mathew, the school principal, expressed sadness about the development. He stated that the school's advocates would answer questions against the institution and that they will not break the law of the land.
The official website of the school clearly states that it is a Christian minority institution founded in 1914 by British missionaries, Alfred and Walter Redwood.
“The school was established with a vision to foster the complete and wholesome intellectual, spiritual, moral, physical and social development of every child, based on Christian values,” it adds.
Parents and alumni support school practice
The century-old school in central Bangalore is currently run by a Christian educational trust.
As many as 75 percent of students studying are Christians, and the practice of reading out the Bible during school assemblies has been going on for decades. Alumni of the school have pointed out that this is not a new practice that the school suddenly brought in.
“This is a non-issue raked up this week when Bible studies have been a part of the school's activities for decades. This school is well known in east Bangalore, especially Frazer Town and Richards Town area.
Any student joining the school signs up with the undertaking. It is an agreement between parents and the school. Apart from all other subjects like science, mathematics, and languages, scripture studies are also taught.
“Students also carry the Bible for the morning assembly where a teacher leads the school in prayer. After the prayer, studies go on as usual. This has been the case for decades and not something new that has sprung up,” says Soham Pablo Banerjee, who passed out of the school in 1996.
Hamid Sulaiman, a well-known Bangalore-based doctor and an alumnus of the school (1986 batch) said his parents chose the school as they wanted to give him the best education possible.
“At no point did we think of our classmates as Hindu or Muslim or Christian. We never felt one religion was being given more importance. Sometimes, I topped in Scriptures too. When we attended the class, we never felt we were being forced to learn the Bible.
Keshav Rajannna, a Karnataka Congress Party member and alumnus of the school, told the media, “It is to create a political narrative and controversy. There are a lot of political people who want their children in this school. They stand in queue during the admission season. But they will not speak up now. If the allegation is about conversion, my children and I have studied in this school and we have remained Hindus for the past 50 years. I do not know of anyone who has converted.”
Archbishop Machado says, We are aware that the majority of Hindus are with us, and it is obvious that it is the same communal bogey, which is all out to divert attention from the basic problems is besetting society.”
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