ASANSOL, India (UCAN) Ė Church people in West Bengal are opposing a move by the eastern Indian state's communist government that they say would limit private schools' autonomy.
Bishop Cyprian Monis of Asansol led nuns, parents, priests and teachers in a protest march April 4 through the streets of Asansol, 1,210 kilometers (about 750 miles) southeast of New Delhi. They presented a district official with a memorandum addressed to the state governor that opposes an amendment to the School Service Commission Act.
The amendment, which the government passed Feb. 20, requires the governor's consent to take effect. It stipulates that only the government-nominated School Service Commission can appoint teachers in minority-managed schools that receive state government funds to pay teachers' salaries.
Church people say the amendment would take away the existing freedom that a church school's management has to appoint teachers, after announcing openings through newspaper advertisements and interviewing applicants.
The amendment is "perceived as an interference of the government in the administration of the minority schools," Bishop Monis said before the protest march got underway. Teachers from 20 schools managed by Christians and Sikhs joined in the march.
The Indian constitution allows religious and linguistic minorities to establish and manage educational institutions to help their communities' development. These are generally termed minority institutions.
The marchers presented their memorandum to Deputy Magistrate Sadhan Chandra Guir of Asansol district. It asks Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi to reject the amendment. Governors, nominated by India's president, ensure that a state's elected government, headed by a chief minister, adheres to the constitution.
While accepting the memorandum, Guir said he knows that "Christian schools do a lot for the welfare of the students, and thus they need to be given freedom to choose appropriate teachers for their schools."
Christian school officials such as Father Sebastian Lourdu, headmaster of St. Joseph's School in Asansol, said the government move would "deter the academic sanity and moral standards of our institutions."
The priest said appointments currently are done with the permission of the district educational officer, and he described the process as "foolproof."
After job applications are invited by advertisements, he said, a committee of five experts interviews the candidates. The committee is appointed by the school management committee and includes a teacher from a government school.
The school secretary then forwards the certificates of the selected candidates and the interview records to the district inspector of schools, Father Lourdu explained.
Sister Phyllis Morris, principal of Loreto School in Asansol, said that although government schools operate in the state, parents prefer Christian schools for their children. "It is because of the moral standards and high intellectual caliber of our teachers," she said.
The nun said the church people fear government-appointed teachers might vitiate their schools' peaceful atmosphere. She said the schools have developed and inculcated values among students and teachers over the years.
Mritunjay Das, a teacher in a Christian school who joined the protest march, said most government teachers are involved in politics. Government-appointed teachers "may lead to politicization of education in minority schools."
State Education Minister Kanti Biswas has stated that the amendment aims to promote uniform teaching standards.
Bishop Monis told UCA News they did not protest the move earlier to avoid disturbing school examinations. Heads of Christian schools all over the state agreed on April 4 as the protest day, and all Christian schools were closed that day, he said.
In March, 10,000 students of minority schools mailed postcards to the governor and the state chief minister opposing the amendment.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).