07/03/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Kerala: Peaceful protest to defend Christian schools

by Nirmala Carvalho
The archbishop of Trichur accuses the Kerala state government of planning to starve and take over Christian schools in violation of the constitution. A ‘day of protest’ is called for today against the plan to shift subsidy burden onto minorities.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Mgr Mar Andrews Thazhat, archbishop of Trichur, has urged the faithful to observe today as a ‘day of protest’ against the violations of minority rights by the Kerala’s state government.

In a pastoral letter read in the churches of the archdiocese last Sunday, the prelate said that the reforms proposed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government are tantamount to confiscation of church-run healthcare facilities and educational institutions. The faithful are thus called to protest peacefully against this takeover in every church on the day of Saint Thomas’ martyrdom.

If the reform is adopted control over subsidised schools would be handed to politicians at the expense of existing management and would encroach upon the latter’s right to appoint staff members and admit students, the letter said.

The government's insistence on admitting 50 per cent students to the self-financing professional colleges run by the churches was in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the letter said.

At present, all students pay the same taxes but a quarter of all places are reserved for poor students, especially from low caste background.

Christian schools have offered to admit up to 25 per cent of all students on a scholarship basis and provide low interest educational loans. But they consider unfair the shift of the subsidy burden onto minorities as the government wants.

In reality although the government might reduce school taxes for deserving students, the relative cost would be largely born by Christian schools, Archbishop Joseph Powathil said. Minority students would end up not only paying the government tax but also the amount of tax that “deserving” students would not have to pay.

This would mean that the Christian community would have to take on an extra financial burden. It would make it more difficult for Christians to fund their own schools, already burdened by bank loans, and receive their own religious and moral education as provided for by the constitution.

What is more, the letter noted, the government wants to remove all religious images (thiruswaroopangal) from schools it subsidies, ban prayers and make Saturday and Sunday regular school days.

Bharatiya Janata Party Minority Morcha National Vice-President P J Thomas said that 80 per cent of the professional colleges in the state, including the self-financing colleges, are run by minority communities. They already have the right to admit students of their own choice. For him self-financing professional institutions with minority status should reserve places to members of schedule caste/schedule tribe and other backward classes.

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