06/11/2018, 18.26
INDIA
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More attacks against Catholic schools feared as new school year starts in Madhya Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho

Next week, classes start again. The Church runs 507 schools in the Indian state. In recent months, Hindu radicals have attacked some schools. The attacks have caused "disturbance in the young minds" of the pupils. Catholic schools welcome students of every religion and social group. For a local priest, "They are all our children."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - After recent attacks by Hindu radicals against Catholic schools in Madhya Pradesh, a feeling of fear has spread among the schools as elections approach, this according to Fr Maria Stephen, spokesman for the Catholic Church in the Madhya Pradesh, who spoke to AsiaNews.

Some "507 Catholic educational establishments are active in the state,” he explained. “We will continue our educational apostolate, provide a service to the community, and offer quality education to the nation and the people, from the remotest rural areas to the suburbs, from villages to cities."

Schools reopen next week in Madhya Pradesh. In recent months, Hindu fundamentalists have targeted some schools run by the Catholic Church. The most violent incidents occurred in two establishments, the St Mary Post Graduate College in Vidisha and the St Joseph Convent School in the Ratlam district.

In the first case, member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the youth wing of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to the school and demanded to enter in order to perform the "Bharat Mata Aarti", a ritual dedicated to "Mother India".

In the second case, members of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Hindu fundamentalist Vishva Hindu Parishad, accused the school administration of suspending 20 students for chanting a patriotic slogan. In reality, the school had reprimanded two students for inappropriate behaviour during the singing of a hymn to "Mother Earth".

In the Indian state, "the Catholic Church is active in the field of education for all communities - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, tribals and Dalits. Everyone, nobody excluded," explained Fr Stephen.

Despite some concerns, "our hope is to be able to continue serving the entire school community without any interference or disturbance from extremist elements," he added.

According to the priest, "our mission is to build the future of the nation by providing children with quality education and all the skills necessary for the future. Along with school education, our schools organise numerous events for students, at the local and state levels. They include sports competitions, debates, and plays. All this is part of a 'holistic education'."

As for the students, "They are all our children. There is no discrimination based on belief. This should be the same for everyone in the sector, in the community and in society."

"Interference and harassment by far-right factions have perturbed the minds of children, because young people are highly emotional. Such incidents upset not only minors but also society."

For all these reasons, "I ask the government to act as a watchdog and instruct the administration to take a pro-active role, ensuring that schools perform their function without incidents.”

"The government must activate its own resources and contain disturbances before they occur. Thus, our schools will be able to continue to teach on a regular basis, our children's education will not be interrupted, and we will be able to continue the mission of building society and the nation through the apostolate of education."

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