For Immediate Release
Anti-Christian School Campaign Launched In Maharashtra , India
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(September 21, 2006) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has just learned that Hindu fundamentalists have launched a massive campaign against Christian schools in Panvel Taluka of Maharashtra states Raigad district, accusing them of psychological exploitation of Hindu students aimed at conversion.
The authorities of a Christian school say the campaign started after they gave a donation of only Rs.500 ($11) for a Hindu festival to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (Society for Revival of Hindus or HJS). Because HJS was expecting more money, they launched a legal attack, accusing the school of violating conversion laws.
While St. Marys school in Panvel, about 20 km from the state capital, Mumbai, on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, is bearing the brunt of the HJS campaign, the nearby St. Joseph s School and Ryan International School are also being targeted.
On September 16, a delegation of the HJS reportedly met the state education minister, Vasant Purke, to lodge a complaint against St. Marys. The minister is understood to have ordered an inquiry into the allegations.
On September 10, the HJS held a meeting with the parents of some of the Hindu students to rope them into the campaign.
On September 11, HJS spokesperson Ramesh Shinde, addressing a press conference, alleged: St Mary’s school has been asking girl students not to put bindis (a mark on the forehead which is seen as a Hindu symbol) or mehendi (coloring of hands). The rakhis (On a Hindu festival, brothers tie a band known as rakhi on the wrist of their sisters) of several students were cut off on Raksha Bandhan (the rakhi festival) day.
Shinde also alleged that while the national anthem had been printed on the back page of the school diary, Christian prayers were on the front page. Besides, he said, the classrooms had pictures only of Jesus and not of Hindu gods.
The HJS complained that during the Ganesh Festival celebrations all schools declared holidays, but St. Marys conducted exams.
The Schools Response to the Accusations
However, George said the allegations were false. The controversy started with the Ganeshotsav contribution. We gave Rs.500 which HJS activists found too small. They then stopped our buses and blocked the school entrance.
He clarified, Bangles are an impediment while writing. In fact, I do not allow any student to wear a cross, adding that the incident of rakhis being cut was exaggerated.
A three-year-old child was wearing four rakhis. He could not write and the teacher asked him to remove them and keep them in his pocket.
He also said the prayer printed in the school diary was not a Christian prayer.
Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, told ICC the campaign was a cause for deep concern for the Christian community. He said it was the duty of the state administration to allow minority institutions to function as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution.
HJS Expands the Campaign to Target All Christian Schools
However, not willing to budge from its stand, the HJS claims its campaign is the supported by several Hindu organizations and political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal.
These groups had reportedly staged a rally at the school on September 5 and forcibly entered into the room of the principal, Mrs. Bakshi, and also interrogated the director of the school, Mathew George.
States the HJS website, www.hindujagruti.org: Finally, the school management gave in to the agitators and all the members shouted slogans related to the victory of Hindu Dharma (Hindu religion) in the school premise. The agitation was concluded by reciting the National Song Vande Mataram. The director and other members of the school management were also made to recite the same.
The website appeals to the parents of students in Christian schools to join in the campaign, saying, The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti also appeals to parents of Hindu children studying in Convent schools to report injustice, if any, being inflicted on their children. The site provides a phone number and email to contact the HJS for complaints.
It also says the HJS gave a picture of Ganapati (Hindu god) to the principal and warned her to display it prominently in the school.
According to the website, one of the aims of the HJS is to stop conversion of Hindus and re-converting [sic] converted Hindus back to Hindu Dharma.
Mathai said Panvel had a large presence of Hindu fundamentalists.
ICC earlier reported that three Christian workers, Rev. K.M. Philip, Rev. Biju Samuel and Rev. Reggie Thomas, in the same Taluka were attacked by members of the Hindu militant group Bajrang Dal on February 26. The three belonging to the Social and Evangelical Association for Love (SEAL), a Christian organization, were beaten up while they were in a prayer meeting in Nere village. Link to story on www.www.persecution.org.
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