Business of education in the name of minority rights
Justice Ranganath Misra Commission report has caught the attention of the entire country. It has strengthened the demand of the Church and the Christian organizations to provide reservation for the Dalit Christians. They are holding rallies and meetings to pressurize the Union government to implement the Misra Commission report.
But, the question arises here whether the Church and these Christian organizations have ever thought of first giving admission to the students and recruiting teachers from their own community in the Christian missionary run schools. The fact of the matter is that the percentage of the Christian students and teachers in these schools is negligible. They run the schools and educational institutions just to do business and earn profit instead of doing service to their own community.
Interestingly, all the governments at the Centre, irrespective of the political party, have tried to appease the Church and Christian organizations. The policies of BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has not been very different when it comes to Church and Christian organizations.
It may be mentioned here that."National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions" had proclaimed its verdict recently that the number of students from minority community does not hold a valid basis while granting or taking away recognition of minority institution. Their status of minority institute will remain intact whatever be the number of non-minority community students in the institution. This decision is contrary to an earlier verdict of the apex court in which minority institutions had been directed to fill certain limit of total admission quota by the minority community students.
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had constituted the 'National Commission for Minorities Educational Institution' (NCMEI) in 2004 for sake of convenience to the minority educational institutions under the stewardship of a former judge Justice M.S.A.Siddiqui. Minority communities have been given freedom, under the article 30 of the Indian Constitution, to establish and run their own educational institutions. Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are running a large number of minority educational institutions under the act.
The basic objective behind giving these special rights under article 30 of the Constitution was to promote the language, script, culture and religious education of the community. However, Indian Church and Christian Missionaries have misused this right to fulfill their own agenda after the independence. They have often used this right as a tool for expansion. Church has gained much in this bargain by granting admissions to the children of high profile politicians and bureaucrats sitting in the corridors of power in their 5-star convent schools.
Lots of cases against arbitrary decisions have even come in the Supreme Court. The Court had said that the minority educational institutions will have to take care of the students of minority communities to a certain level. These institutions will be free to admit the children of non-minority community but in any circumstances they cannot overlook the interests of the students of the minority community. If a minority educational institution is found violating this order, their minority status could be withdrawn. The Court had even said that if the State Governments want they can decide certain percentage of seats for the students of the minority communities for such institutions.
Complaints of Sikh and Muslim students not getting admission in their own institutions are rare. Actually, this problem persists with the institutions run by the Church. The Church has laid a web of educational institution across the country.The influence of Church can be ascertained from the fact that -Christian community which is merely 2.5 percent of the total population of the country- has monopoly over the 22 percent of the educational institutions and even then around 15 percent of the Christian children in the cities and 40 percent in the rural areas are illiterate. The convent schools administered and run by the Church do not give admission to the poor Christian children at all.
In a programme organised by Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) in the national capital Region of Delhi, a Dalit Christian leader said, "The Christian educational institutions are here to serve rich instead of the poor Christians. Even in metros like Delhi; the number of the Christian students in these institutions is negligible. The special rights entrusted by the Constitution are being used to churn money and for the expansion of the Churches." Had church played its role honestly it would not have to demand to include its followers in the list of Scheduled Caste and notifying Ranganath Misra Commission report.
Several complaints of above mentioned nature were constantly coming to National Commission for Minority Educational Institution. Keeping this in mind The Telegraph- Calcutta on March 7, 2010 published an article and quoted the Chairman of the Commission, Justice M.S.A.Siddiqui saying, "The educational institutions run by the Indian Church should have at least 30 percent Christian students and if this is violated such institutions will loose their minority institution status." Echoing the same view even Supreme Court had said in its 2005 verdict that the benefit of minority education institutions should necessarily percolate to those community students in the name of whose progress they have been established. The Chairman of the Commission, Justice Siddiqui had said, "Educational institutions of Sikh and Mislim community are giving maximum benefit to the students of their community. Here, the problem lies with the institutions run by Christians. So the National Commission for Minority Educational Institution has ratified this proposal that those Christian educational institutions that fails to maintain minimum 30 percent Christian students will loose their minority status."
Entire Indian Church establishment openly stood against this order of the NCMEI. Catholic Bishops Confernce of India (CBCI), Commission for Education and Culture expressed their serious disagreement before the Prime Minister and the Education Minister against the verdict of the commission for fixing the minimum limit of minority students in church run institutes. The Bishop conference said to the Prime Minister that 'Article 30 (1) of constitution gave them right to run their institutions and there has been no percentage fixed to get the minority status. Since our number is also less so we (Bishop Conference) condemn this decision. Since then
Commission was looking for a way out to change its decision which it soon got an opportunity after controversy between Church run school and Odisha government. Odisha government had alleged that percentage of the Christian students in the school is very less so the minority status of the school should be withdrawn. NCMEI smelt the opportunity to change its verdict and changed its earlier decision in a single stroke and stated that no minimum percentage is required to run a minority school.
Human Rights Activist Joseph Gathia believes that the right to run educational institution was imparted keeping certain responsibilities in mind. The aim was to promote the interests of backwards and poorer sections of the community by their own community so that they could stand with equal footing with relatively well-off communities. It will not be unconstitutional to impose some restriction in order to stop the mis-use . Taking legal recourse on denying admissions to minority students falls in the same domain. Joseph Gathis asks - If Indian Church does not want to run these institutions for their own community, then for whom they want to run these institutions?
Should the decision given by the NCMEI and the flimsy logic put forward by the Catholic Bishops Confernce of India (CBCI) and Commission for Education and Culture before Prime Minsiter- that no percentage has been fixed in the constitution- be construed as a guarantee to open education institution in every nook and corner of the country bluffing constitutional provisions just for the sake of churning money. There are hundreds of convent schools like Saint Columbus, Jesus and Mary, Mater Dei, Saint Thomas which are being run in and around Delhi under the minority status. Has the government ever bothered to find the percentage of the minority community in these educational institutions?
Here, one example will be sufficed. In Saint Thomas school run by the Catholic Church in the NCR has around 1500 students and among them number of Christian students is less than 50. Similarly, in Khatauli which is very close to Delhi, there is hardly any Catholic family but convent school is there. Now, the question arises that if students and teachers in these school are not Christian, then for the conservation of which religion, language and culture, the Church is using the minority rights?
Vested interest groups are exploiting the loopholes in the constitutional provisions for their expansion. The aim of the constitutional provision was to promote interests of the minority and not to give freedom to run commercial educational institutions in the name of minority educational institution.
The Church and Christian organizations should introspect and evolve a road map for the betterment of the poor Christians. Instead of asking the Centre to implement the Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) also known as Ranganath Misra Commission report, it should first ensure of giving adequate quota to the students and teachers of its own community in the missionary run schools. Otherwise, their credibility will be further eroded.
R L Francis
National President - Poor Christian Liberation Movement
IIIA/145, Rachna, Vaishali - 201010 (NCR) India