For the Court, Christian missionaries are also involved in forced conversions. Christian college educator has been accused of harassment of 34 female students. For Tamil Nadu bishop, such accusations are regrettable in an atmosphere charged with sectarianism.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Madras High Court recently observed that there is a high risk of sexual abuse against students and forced conversions in Christian schools. For Mgr Antony Pappusamy, president of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, such accusations are false and gratuitous.
The Court’s observation came last Friday during a hearing involving Samuel Tennyson, assistant professor at Madras Christian College. The latter has been accused of sexual harassment by 34 female third-year zoology students. The alleged harassment is said to have occurred last January during an academic trip to Mysore, Bengaluru (Bangalore) and Coorg.
"There is a general feeling among parents of students, especially female students, that coeducational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children," Justice S Vaidyanathan said.
"In the present era,” he added, “there are several accusations against them for indulging in the compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity. Though they impart good education, their preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question."
However, for Mgr Pappusamy, “These two observations, made by the Hon’ble Judge are highly regrettable. Coming from the higher judiciary, it has the potential of damaging the reputation of our institutions before the general public”.
The bishop notes that Church leaders rarely speak out in court cases. However, he feels obliged to do so in this case because such "observations can mould public opinion, especially in a charged communal atmosphere, currently prevailing in the country. Therefore, with great respect towards the judiciary, we would like to express our mind, over the said two collateral observations of the learned judge, about the Christian institutions”.
First of all, points out the prelate, Prof Tennyson’s trial "is not in any way connected with the question of religious conversion. Therefore, the said observation on religious conversion was unwarranted. Constitutional secularism in India guarantees every citizen religious freedom to profess, practice and propagate (Art. 25(1)).”
“The forcible conversion is an oxymoron and self-contradictory. As Christians, we do not believe in forcible conversion. We respect all religions and hold that all religions contain ‘seeds of truth’. At the same time, the discretion and the freedom of an individual is constitutionally sacrosanct, rooted in their human dignity.”
Secondly, Mgr Pappusamy questions the notion that co-educational classes are unsafe, given the lack of evidence or data. What is more, the Christian community has been involved in education in India for centuries and the State of Tamil Nadu is home to more than 5,000 Christian schools.
Such facilities, according to the bishop, offer a “secular education, for the noble object of nation-building, irrespective of caste and creed. They have a history of 300 years, contributing to the lives of millions of citizens and families, especially the marginalised.”
Speaking on the matter, Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), notes that Indian President Ram Nath Kovind himself stressed the value of Christian schools on several occasions.
"President Kovind said that missionary institutions have become symbols of scholarship and academic excellence,” George explained.
In fact, “The President said that the Christian community – whose history in India goes back 2,000 years and which has contributed so much to our shared culture – has carved a special role for itself in education’” said a presidential statement.