Christians and other religious minorities in the western Indian state of Gujarat are outraged by a new law, Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (Amendment) Act, which reduces their right to control their educational institutions.
On June 7, minorities protested at the state’s High Court to revoke the law. Father Teles Fernandes, secretary of Gujarat Education Board of Catholic Institutions spoke about the Act.
“The new law has practically withdrawn the rights of all religious minorities guaranteed in the constitution to establish and manage educational institutions,” he said.
The law has is being challenged because non-church educational schools had the advantage of appointing non-teaching and teaching staff including the principal. They also framed rules and regulations for the administration of the institution and to discipline the students and staff. However, the new law states that all minority-run institutions that receive the state’s financial aid should appoint staff, including principals, according to government norms. In other words, government officials now have the power to choose who can lead in these establishments. “The new law has withdrawn all such powers,” Father Fernandes claimed.
The law also noted that appointments will be done by the government through its Central Recruitment Committee, which will select and appoint staff in minority schools as per their merit list. Church leaders feel that the new law will take away Christian identity because the religious institutions usually have Catholics, priests, and nuns, as heads of schools to retain the Catholic character of the institutions.
Spiritual leaders are skeptical that this law is just a segway for the Gujaret government to take control over all religious practices in India. They also think that the same law will be replicated in other states where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the government.
Muslims and Jains are also opposed to the new law. “We have jointly filed a petition in the High Court challenging the new law,” said Father Fernades.