06/14/2007, 00.00
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India’s Catholic schools in the eye of the storm

by Nirmala Carvalho
In the past few days in India schools have been at the centre of discussion. Bvs students have protested against Mumbai’s Catholic schools. In appearance their motivations are economic; the Bvs have in fact requested a lowering in fees. But Mumbai’s Archbishop maintains that the real reasons are religious, while the president of the Bcs says it may be political. The decision by St Stephen's College to admit Dalhit Christian’s has met with public outrage.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Extremist Hindu students from the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (Bvs) group, marched in protest on June 11 and 12 against the high cost of school fees and materials in three catholic schools in Mumbai, Sacred Heart in Worli, Our Lady of Salvation School and Antonio D’Silva in Dadar. The protesters were stopped by police at the entrance to a school.

After having met a representative from the school Bvs secretary, Dinesh Bobhate, said “the school principal has promised to examine the issue”.  “We have given him one day – added Bobhate – se la if the school does not implement new measures we will take the necessary steps”.

Archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Archdiocesan Board of Education (Abe), Oswald Gracias, expressed his concern to AsiaNews “These protests were unreasonable.  Priest and Nuns from Mumbai and other areas of the country have always served the sick and poor with love and have long taken care of educating the young”.  “There are 150 Christian schools in the Archdiocese of Mumbai – added Gracias – run by Abe. Ironically all of the schools targeted by Bvs Christian students are a minority.  Most of the pupils in fact are from other religions, which benefit from the Catholic Churches education, and this is very sad.  I therefore ask that the authorities intervene so that events such as these do not happen again”.

Dolphy D'Souza, president of Bombay Catholic Sabha (Bcs), has also condemned these protests asking the State Home Minister RR Patil to guarantee security.  In a statement released yesterday Dolphy said “Bvs protested because students of their choice weren’t admitted to the schools.  Pressure for admissions is becoming a racket”.

Staying with the theme of schools, the prestigious St Stephen's College has created outrage in India this week.  The institute has agreed to admit Dalhit Christians.  10% of the total 400 place will be reserved for worthy students thus increasing the total percentage of Christians attending the school to 40%.   

The initiative drew mixed reactions from students.  Those from minorities are enthusiastic; those not belonging to any particular category complain that it only further reduces the number of available places.  

President of All India Christian Council, Joseph D'souza and John Dayal, declared themselves in favour of St Stephen's College’s decision and have also welcomed the educational policy of the Indian Bishops Conference, reaffirming the Churches commitment to educate the marginalized.

This decision coincides with recent recommendations by the national justice commission Rangnath Misra for the religious and linguistic minorities which says that Dahlit Christians and Muslims must enjoy the same rights and privileges as Dahlits, Hindu’s, Sikhs and Buddhists.


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