04/09/2024, 17.01
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Teaching the Indian Constitution in Catholic schools to counter religious hate

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Bishops' Conference sets guidelines for the thousands of Church-run educational establishments, with suggestions on how to promote respect for all faiths, such as reciting the Preamble of the country’s constitution every morning. The goal is to rediscover “justice, liberty, equality and fraternity” as “the essence of India’s core values.”

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has issued new guidelines to all educational establishments under its jurisdiction, calling for the promotion of respect for all faiths, without imposing Christian traditions on students of other religions.

The CBCI suggests that students should recite the Preamble of the Indian Constitution every morning, and that it might be inscribed at the entrance of each school, which should also set aside an “interfaith prayer room” (Sarvadharma Prarthanalay) on its premises.

The Catholic Church in India runs about 14,000 schools, 650 colleges, seven universities, five medical faculties, and 450 technical and vocational institutes.

“The 13-page guideline and instruction document – prepared by the CBCI Education and Culture Office – was released last week,” said Archbishop Elias Gonsalves, chairman of the Office for Education and Culture, speaking to AsiaNews.

“The Guidelines were prepared by the Commission for Culture and Education, as it has been done in previous years,” Archbishop Gonsalves added. “However, this time it is being viewed through the lens of the upcoming general elections.”

Last February in Bengaluru, at the 36th plenary session of the CBCI, the bishops discussed the current situation of the country, marked by growing development but also rising poverty.

“Discussions also centred on growing disharmony in the context of the country’s religious fabric,” the prelate noted. “A suggestion was made that in our establishments, which cater to people of all faiths, students recite the Preamble during the school assembly.”

The Guidelines set forth notions and goals, “which include the concepts of sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic and the objectives of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. All the above values are enshrined in our constitution, and perfectly summarise the essence of India’s core values.”

What is more, “the Preamble’s affirmation of secularism emphasises the importance of religious tolerance and equal treatment for all religions. It upholds the principle of a pluralistic society.

“We hope, by reciting the Preamble of the constitution during the daily assembly, it would deepen our understanding of the foundational principles that shape Indian democracy and democratic ethos of the nation.”

The Guidelines also stress the need for enhanced security in educational establishments "to control access to school buildings and grounds, such as locked doors, entryway security systems, visitor check-in procedures and surveillance cameras”.

According to the CBCI's document, educational establishments must also strive to hire teachers from diverse backgrounds to "reflect" the diversity of India's student population, promote religious and cultural sensitivity, and respect diversity among staff members.

Another suggestion is to display in schools, images of prominent freedom fighters, scientists, poets, national leaders, regardless of their community of origin.

This has already been done in one school, St Sebastian Goan High School in Mumbai.

“In my office there are pictures of national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Radhakrishnan, and Abdul Kalam,” Principal Sister Swarna said.

Similarly, “I have highlighted different educationists along with their quotations, so that when a student enters my office, I see that they learn at least one of the quotations.”

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