06/23/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Muslims and secular parties against pro-atheism textbook

by Nirmala Carvalho
Muslim groups and some secular parties in Kerala call on the authorities to withdraw a book from high school that promotes atheism. The local education ministry denies the accusation and rejects the demand. A priest says the book is full of distortions and talks about its real message.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A social science textbook for Class VII public school students has raised the ire of Muslims in the Indian state of Kerala. A Catholic expert explains to AsiaNews the atheist and anti-religious message that the book conveys and that the state’s Communist government wants to send to children.

The president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Panakkad Syed Mohammedali Shihab Thangal, on 19 June called on the authorities to withdraw a textbook that he claims promotes atheism and anti-religious sentiments, threatening public protests in case his demands are not met. He is backed in this by the United Democratic Front (EDF), a Congress Party ally. Members of the Kerala Students Union (KSU) and Youth Congress activists also burnt copies of the textbook.

Last Saturday Kerala’s education minister, M.A. Baby (photo), rejected the accusations that the book favours atheism, saying instead that it promotes a democratic and tolerant society and teaches that every religion is concerned about the well-being of the individual.

Fr Paul Thelakat, a spokesman for the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church and editor of Satyadeepam (Light of Truth), and influential publication, told AsiaNews that “the Church does not take a stand on what books public schools should purchase. However, this book discretely but definitely promotes Communist ideology.”

“In a chapter title “The land of humanness’, India’s three religions are presented, but citing certain historical events and generalises on that basis to claim that all three promote caste divisions in society. Religion is shown as a divisive force that removes the human dimension from the social fabric.”

“It tells the story of a child whose parents belong to two different religions. When they have to register the child for school they write down that he belongs to no religion. The message is that children must not receive any religious education because they can choose it when they are adults.”

For the clergyman such messages are misleading because they amount to saying that “parents need not teach any ethics, or choose any school, or take any decision for him or her, or even get medical care or medicines for their children until they are adult.”

What the book does not talk about is the great tradition of the Church in Kerala and its fight against caste division.

“The book calls on pupils to discuss what region is most affected by general problems like prices, drinking water, infectious diseases and earthquakes, arguing that all are affected alike and that religion has no bearing on life’s problems.”

The book does not overtly claim that religion is just “superstition” according to Marxist ideology, but promotes this message by “citing examples and quoting from people admired in India.”

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