Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Mgr Anthonisamy Neethinathan, bishop of Chingleput (Tamil Nadu) and head of the Office on Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (OSCBC) of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), has decided that Dalit children and those facing economic hardships must receive some advantages so that their right to an education can be guaranteed.
To this effect, he issued a circular to all Catholic schools in his diocese, calling them to comply with a provision that requires “no further parish recommendations".
The bishop’s initiative is part of the CBCI 2017 Education Policy and its 2016 paper on Dalits, OSCBC executive secretary said Fr Z Devasagayaraj. “Both insist on the fact that Dalits must get a discount on tuition fees in Catholic schools.”
Mgr Neethinathan’s virtuous example "should be applied by all dioceses" of India, especially since "most schools are run by (religious) congregations,” Fr Devasagayaraj told AsiaNews.
It should be noted that the bishop "issued the circular at the beginning of the academic year, so that Dalits can fully benefit” from the initiative.
Point 181 of the circular states that "fee cuts must be 50 per cent in Tamil schools and 25 per cent in English for economically disadvantaged students and those in special situations who belong to the first generation of pupils or whose parents do not have a permanent job."
Point 182 concerns Dalit students. "[S]ince our diocese is committed to ensuring relief for Dalits in our journey towards (God's) kingdom, [...] All educational institutions must be firm in granting a 60 per cent fee reduction in Tamil middle schools and 50 per cent in English middle schools to Dalit students who come from poor families and whose parents do not have a stable job."
“Education is the most effective means of empowering India’s poor Dalit,” Fr Devasagayaraj noted. “That is why Ambedkar* said ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’.”
"For hundreds of years, Dalits have been deprived of education because of the Manu Smriti** and the caste system. Thus, they need special programmes and concessions to continue their education," the OSCBC secretary said.
According to the clergyman, "with a 60 per cent discount, local schools will not suffer a great loss, since their fees are lower than in English-language schools."
At the same time, a 50 per cent reduction in English "will encourage many parents to send their children to school, because English is a fundamental tool for Dalit development."
* Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) is considered one of India’s Founding Fathers.
** Manu Smriti refers to Manu's Law, the texts encoding the divisions in Hindu society.