10/21/2020, 17.07
INDIA
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Kerala bishops and teachers on hunger strike to defend schools penalised by the state

by Biju Veticad

The bishops went on a hunger strike yesterday, whilst teachers start today until the hiring issue is settled. Independent schools can choose their teachers, but must wait for state approval. For four years now, approval has been delayed. With COVID-19, schools’ financial woes have worsened.

 

Trivandrum (AsiaNews) – Kerala’s Catholic bishops held a one-day hunger strike yesterday in front of the Secretariat of the Legislative Assembly, demanding protection for minority schools and their right to hire teachers.

Hunger strikers included Education Commission president Metropolitan Joshua Mar Ignatios, Education Commission vice president Bishop Paul Antony Mullasserry of Quilon, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Joseph Tharayil of Changanacherry, as well as many Catholic teachers.

Many schools in India are run by different religious groups but receive state support. Government-funded schools can recruit teachers, but must wait for government approval. This scheme has been in place since the days of the British Raj.

For the last few years, the Kerala government has delayed approving teachers hired by minority schools. The state, in southwestern India, is ruled by a Communist party which tends to clash with Catholic Churches over educational policies.

Given the situation, the Christian minority finds itself unjustly oppressed. The delay in approving appointments creates several problems. Since the maximum age at which teachers can be hired in independent schools is 40 years, delays prevent many candidates from working.

What is more, late approval leads to late payments. Some teachers have been waiting for their salary since 2016 when things got thornier. That year, the state government changed the rules, requiring independent schools to hire a teacher chosen by the state for each teacher hired by the school.

Yesterday's hunger strike began like a ritual, announced by the Latin bishop of Trivandrum, Mgr Soosa Pakyam, and ended in the evening with Card Baselios Cleemis, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church.

Opposition parties and members of Kerala’s Legislative Assembly came out in support of the bishops’ hunger strike. However, teachers are not optimistic and have decided to stage their own hunger strike today until the hiring issue is resolved.

The problems of teachers and their salaries have become even more urgent after the COVID-19 outbreak. When the pandemic started in March, schools shut down and only e-learning became available to students. Most independent and private schools have not been paid by parents, and have had to halve teachers’ salaries.

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