The Imbroglio surrounding Catholic Schools
By John S. Shilshi
What could be more bizarre than an organisation with avowed objective of emancipating people from all forms of discrimination declaring public curfew in and around schools where thousands of children are studying? Strange though it might sound, this is exactly what is being witnessed in the plains of Manipur. Four Catholic schools are currently facing a desperate situation with public curfew being imposed in and around their campuses by the Communist Party of Kangleipak (MC). As the term ‘curfew’ denotes, there cannot be a gathering of five or more people at a place. In other words, the schools shall have to essentially shut down since it would be impractical for them to conduct classes without the presence of students. That the parents of the students of these schools dared to ignore the order handed down by the armed outfit and continue to send their children to school is a different matter altogether.
The reason put forward by the organisation for imposing the so-called public curfew is even more bizarre. It has nothing to do with impropriety in the running of the school, nor was it connected to quality of education or welfare of students, but on the flimsy allegation that these schools are using the institutions as camouflage to spread Christianity. No doubt the public by and large have refused to get swayed by such allegations and had even dared the threat for action and saw to it that schools go on as usual, but for the benefit of doubting Thomases, if any, it is necessary to straighten things with facts which are grounded on truth, since such blind allegations to discredit institutes not only has the potential to misinform and mislead, but also could set an unhealthy precedent for the future.
Nirmalabas and Little Flower Schools, two among the four alleged to have been indulging in preaching of Christian faith to students were established in 1956 and 1958 respectively. They, along with Don Bosco School, Chingmeirong - another Catholic School established in 1957 - played a flagship role in impacting quality education in the valley and shared much of the burden laden on reputed government schools such as Johnstone Hr. Secondary, Ram Lal Paul School etc. To this day, they have produced men and women who excelled in their respective professions, who not only did themselves and their families proud, but also brought laurels for the state. Fact of the matter is, though all of them studied in these Catholic schools, they continued to remain devout and proud Hindus and Muslims.
In comparison, St Joseph’s Hr. Secondary School and Christ Jyoti School came in much later in 1983 and 1988 respectively. However, it is not without reason that they too became sought after schools in the Manipur valley. The alumni of these two schools will tell us that apart from imparting quality education to all sections of people, there were no other doubtful activities taking place as perceived by the concerned organisation. The men and women these schools produced, who achieved heights in their respective persuasions, are non-Christians. Where is the question of conversion then? Therefore, the claim made by the organisation about having unearthed a practice which is not healthy for the society of Manipur is beaten hollow, and appears to be vested interest driven. Moreover, it is common knowledge that all Schools run by the Catholic Education Society follow a standard operating procedure. Therefore, it is beyond one’s comprehension as to how these four schools would be doing anything differently.
With regards to argument that Churches located within the school campuses are proofs of evangelization, it needs to be pointed out that such arrangements are not confined to these four schools. As a matter of fact, all schools run by Christian organisations have this arrangement in place. It is an arrangement fundamental to one’s faith, which is a Constitutional right guaranteed to every citizen. They are no different from the small temples some schools have within their campuses. Most importantly, these small Chapels in the school compounds remain closed during school hours, and worship services that take place in them are absolutely private affair, confined only to Christians. Therefore, to describe them as venues of conversion is yet another bizarre assertion.
Whatever be the bond of contention, it is sad that the situation has come to such a pass and no less than 11428 students are kept under tremendous mental pressure, not knowing what could happen to them and at what moment. It is a kind of passive violence inflicted on them and their parents, which is more difficult to endure than actual physical violence. It is time that all sane voices speak up against such holding of educational Institutions at ransom. It is time the government, human rights organizations, student bodies and the general public start speaking in one language against all forms of attacks on educational institutions. For, today it is someone else’s child who is suffering, but tomorrow it could be our own. The society therefore cannot and must allow this kind of threats to become norms.
A word of caution for Catholic schools - There is a need to improve on all fronts. While achieving academic excellence must remain the core objective, areas other than teaching should not be ignored. Infusion of professionalism should not be only in respect of teaching staff, but with allied staff as well. Making admission process transparent and tenable should not be ignore. Additionally, Principals/Headmasters need to learn the art of saying ‘No” to people. It is time they open out and get connected to the outside world and stop being in own confines.
(The writer is a retired IPS officer. Analyst on internal security. Views expressed are personal)
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