Kerala Christians: "New education law is undemocratic"
by Nirmala Carvalho

A pastoral letter was read out in all the churches of the state, calling on believers to protest against the new higher education act, which does not define Christians – 19% of the population – as a minority; this implies they must be subject to the state regime.

Thiruvananthapuram (AsiaNews) –Priests from all the churches in Kerala yesterday read out a pastoral letter exhorting believers to protest against the state's new higher education act. The letter, jointly drawn up and signed by leaders of all rites, condemned the law as "unconstitutional, anti-democratic and anti-minority".

Fr Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Bishops' Conference of India, shares their view. In an interview with AsiaNews, he accused the government of "wanting to abdicate its responsibility to guarantee education for all and of planning to dump it onto the shoulders of a minority that has worked hard and is being punished for this."

The Kerala Professional Colleges Bill 2006 reserves the right to decide whether a community is a minority or not, and on this basis to decide how many schools this community can run as well. The state government will also be empowered to decide the proportion of minority students a school may accept in relation to other students. Christian institutes have taken the case to the state's high court that should issue a ruling this week.

Christian leaders declared yesterday to be a "day of prayer and fast to protest the law", which, as they wrote in the letter, "excludes Christians, who form only 19% of the population of Kerala, from the definition of minorities… This means we will have to run our institutions like government institutions. This move penalizes us."

The letter, signed by the Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara rite, Cyril Mar Baselius, on behalf of all bishops, said Christian institutions would press ahead with legal action to fight the new act.  It also accused the government of distancing communities from each other. "The campaign mounted against us, claiming that we have more colleges, is intended to create a negative feeling against Christians among other communities."

Fr Joseph told AsiaNews: "The Christian community pioneered in establishing education institutions in Kerala nearly 150 years ago and all the communities derived benefits from its work... The new law aims to annihilate the development work of minority communities, apart from the fact that it goes against the Constitution. These communities should be encouraged to contribute to the development of the nation rather than being punished for services rendered, which is what this law does."

He continued: "In fact, it is minorities who invest all their resources to build up institutions while the government takes the benefit from them in the name of social justice."

"It is the government," he added, "that collects taxes from the public and therefore it has the duty to provide an education for the less wealthy. But it seems that now it wants to abdicate that responsibility by dumping it onto the shoulders of a minority that has worked hard to create institutions with their scarce resources."