10/21/2009, 00.00
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Jammu and Kashmir: Catholics call on government to protect their schools

by Nirmala Carvalho
Church authorities call on the Indian State not to interfere in the internal affairs of Church-run institutions and instead focus on discrimination caused by a tense political situation.

Srinagar (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church of Jammu and Kashmir has threatened to shut down its schools if the State government does not guarantee security to its teachers and staff in lieu of interfering in the internal affairs of Catholic institutions, said Joseph TK, a liaison officer with the Catholic Church, after the district collector in Baramulla intervened in a dispute between the administration and teachers at the St Joseph Higher Secondary School.

Trouble began when staff members protested accusing the administration of favouring a specific party in a case involving teachers. Church representatives complained about the district collector’s intervention in the school management, demanding the authorities investigate “anti-Christian and anti-religious” reasons behind the staff protest rather than matters internal to the school.

The Church also submitted a memorandum to Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the state, demanding security for all its employees and institutions.

Mgr Peter Celestine, bishop of the Diocese of Jammu-Srinagar, told AsiaNews that the “political situation is volatile and there is tension all around, even though the Church is not party to politics.

In Jammu and Kashmir, “Christians are a miniscule minority, a mere 0.0014 per cent” in the overwhelmingly Muslim State.

Despite this, the Church runs a number of welfare and educational organisations. Its schools have about 7,000 students, mostly Muslims.

“Muslim boys can dress according to Islamic principles and wear skull caps; girls can wear the purdah,” the bishop of Jammu-Srinagar said.

Occasionally, there are attacks on our institutions and also personnel on the basis of fabricated news; however, there is no suspicion from the authorities,” he added. “The authorities are respectful of the Christian missionaries and we are never under any threat from the administration.” In addition, “we share a cordial relationship with Muslim religious leaders.  ”.

Still the prelate said that he would like to see the State do more to protect minorities, especially Christians, against discrimination.

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