Christian School in India Censured for Distributing Bibles

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

District officials ask school to concede to demands of Hindu protestors.

by Vishal Arora

DELHI, December 21 (Compass) -- A Hindu fundamentalist group has accused a Christian school in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, of forcibly distributing copies of the New Testament to students with intent to convert them.

In a complaint to Sukma district officials, the Dharam Jagran Manch (DJM or Forum for Religious Revival) insisted that “Father Victor Manuel Raj and other school staff be criminally investigated and prosecuted for the distribution of 600 Bibles and other missionary literature to school students.

“Further, Father Victor and other staff who preach Christianity must not be allowed to live in the school premises.”

The DJM also laid out a very specific list of demands for the school to follow. District officials asked the school to comply with these demands. The senior management then wrote a letter of appeal.

However, when they arrived at the magistrate’s office on December 15 to present the letter, they were told to wait until after December 19, when local election results were due.

At press time, the school was still waiting for a summons from the magistrate.

The English Medium High School in Sukma was established by the Indian Missionary Society of Tirunelveli in 1983. The school currently has 600 students.

The DJM first lodged a complaint at the Sukma police station on November 6. They claimed the school had put copies of the New Testament into students’ bags, threatening them with exam failure if they refused to read it.

In response, the school wrote to the district magistrate. “We informed him that we gave the New Testaments to our students without any pressure and we did not tell them they would be given more marks if they read it,” explained the Rev. Dr. Victor Manuel Raj, a senior staff member at the school.

DJM activists then stormed the school and disrupted classes on November 16 and 17.

“On November 17, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Sukma held a meeting between officials of the DJM and school authorities,” Raj told Compass. “During the meeting, the DJM made several demands upon the school management.”

The list included a ban on Christian preaching, religious songs and the storage of missionary materials at the school. The DJM also wanted the school to place a statue or photograph of Bharat Mata (Mother India) somewhere on the school premises.

Bharat Mata is both a goddess and a concept promoted by Hindu nationalists, who see India as the holy land of Hindus. Schools run by Hindu organizations often display a picture or statue of the goddess as an object of worship.

The DJM also asked that school staff be comprised of at least 50 percent non-Christians. They also proposed the formation of a committee of school and community representatives which would investigate, under the guidance of district officials, any “missionary activity” at the school.

Finally, the Hindu activists asked district officials to close down the school if it failed to meet these demands.

“The magistrate asked us to respond in writing by December 1,” Raj explained. “We asked for another fifteen days. Our request was granted, and we were asked to report to the magistrate by December 15.

“When we went to the magistrate’s office with our letter, we were told to wait until after December 19. Perhaps this was because our local election results were due that day.

“However, we have our response ready, in which we are humbly asking the magistrate to acknowledge that most of the demands made by the DJM are unconstitutional.”

“The demands issued by the Hindu group are unacceptable and unconstitutional,” a representative of the Christian Legal Association of India (CLAI) confirmed to Compass. “They clearly violate Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, which gives religious minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”

CLAI lawyers say that requiring the appointment of 50 percent non-Christian staff and restricting student’s access to Christian music and literature are also unconstitutional.