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Christians need to rethink minority education rights (Interview of Fr. Savarimuthu Ignacimuthu by UCA News)

Christians need to rethink minority education rights (Interview of Fr. Savarimuthu Ignacimuthu by UCA News)

Publication: Indian Currents
Date: September 8, 2002

Q.: Do you think the government is Interfering with Church-run schools?
A.: The fear that governmental interference is bound to seal the Christian initiative in the education ministry is unfounded. If the government orders administration streamlining, minority institutions, including those managed by Christians, have no option but to follow. When the government funds the institutions, it is logical that it demands certain regulations. The one who pays the piper calls the tune.

India's demographic explosion has brought more pressing needs and priorities that force the government to cut its funding for education. The government's survival at times depends on populist schemes.

Well, a good democratic government is judged by how well it treats its minorities. We have the constitutionally guaranteed minority rights. It is a safeguard but also a cause for friction.

Q.: Are those rights justified?
A.: Well, we need to view this from two angles. First, the rights of the religious minorities have to be respected if they have been historically determined. We should also respect the rights minorities draw from political mobilization and historical pacts. How long those rights need protection is another issue. Since the framers of the Constitution did not specify a deadline, the decision lies with the minorities.

Since April 2, the full bench of the Supreme Court has been hearing some 200 cases on minority educational rights. Therefore, it is not right for me to comment on the issue.

However, I support voluntarily giving up the rights. Christians should have done this long ago and set an example.

It is time for those who enjoy minority educational rights to ask, are the rights reserved only for the religious congregations and orders of the Church, or for the people? Who should identify the people who would run such institutions?

An estimated 20 percent of India's national educational infrastructure is with Christians, who form less than 3 percent of the population. However, the minority rights have not helped Christians themselves much, especially dalits (former untouchables) and those at the grassroots. Some Church institutions seem to give more importance to excellence than to serve the poorest in their community.

Q.: What options are available if Christians were to surrender their minority rights?
A.: Set up a corpus fund in every educational institution. It is possible to manage our needs ourselves over a period of time if those administering them now are earnest. The gestation time, of course, is bound to be a bit harrowing, but we have no other choice.

Many of our self-financing institutions are doing a good job, both academically and in helping deserving Christians through a liberal system of scholarships. We could follow their examples.

The corpus fund should prove handy for implementing projects aimed at promoting the educational needs of dalits and other poor groups. The Church should provide maximum possible support for the dalits 'educational advancement.

Q.: How should Christians deal with the spread of Hindu nationalist ideologies?
A.: Saffronization (Hinduization) of education is a passing cloud. It does not deserve the importance we give to it now. India's pluralistic ethos will tide over such threats. India is a melting pot of many cultures and religions.

Even when they intrude into the syllabi, Christian institutions have ample scope to inculcate in students the values that sustain the country's secular fabric.

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