Sonia’s RTE Helps Church-Run Institutions Monopolise Education: Its Ill Effects Are Now Showing

Sonia’s RTE Helps Church-Run Institutions Monopolise Education: Its Ill Effects Are Now Showing

by Shreyas Bharadwaj - Saturday, March 25, 2017 04:30 PM IST
Sonia’s RTE Helps Church-Run Institutions Monopolise Education: Its Ill Effects Are Now ShowingSonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. (Getty Images)
  • Given that none of the stringent regulations under RTE applies to church-run institutions, they are largely the ones able to provide affordable private education.

    The lack of non-Christian school options ensures that large segments of school education in India are a Christian monopoly.

The case of the Catholic priest in Kerala, Father Robin Vadakkumchery – vicar of the St Sebastian’s Church at Kottiyoor, who, according to Kerala Police, repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl – brings to the fore pressing questions on school education in India. The victim was, after all, a student in a school where a habitual offender was posted by the Catholic church as a manager.

Those of us not familiar with the Catholic church and its media sympathisers would assume that the church would be scandalised by this crime and would act against the perpetrator and his associates. An exhaustive report in The News Minute by Haritha John and Megha Varier, however, shows otherwise. The various arms of the church, in fact, reportedly acted in concert to hide the crime of the man and his associates.

“On February 7, the girl was taken to Christu Raj hospital, run by a Christian management. Police say that Fr Robin "donated" money to the hospital as a reward for not reporting the incident to the police. The hospital administrator then agreed to admit the girl, while gynaecologist Dr Tessy and Nellayani Thankamma assist in the delivery.

“After the girl gave birth, Dr Hyderali, a pediatrician at the hospital allowed the baby to be discharged. The minor girl continued to get medical assistance for two days before she was allowed to return home.

“Meanwhile, Nellayali Thankamma, Dr Liz Maria and Sr. Anita from Christu Dasi convent in Wayanad took the baby from the hospital to an orphanage in Wayanad. Sr. Anita drove a Maruti Eeco car to the orphanage.”

Fr Robin didn't stop at that. When the police registered a case on the crime, he coerced the victim’s father (a poor farm labourer) to falsely admit to having raped his own daughter and fathered another kid in the process. The perversity of Father Robin in putting a family through such mental torture is unimaginable.

This wasn’t all. The media arm of the church even tried to blame the young girl for leading the Father astray! Here is what a Catholic newspaper, Sunday Shalom, had to say in an editorial,

...the partner in the sin is more than 15 years old. Considering her in my daughter’s position I am saying, daughter you too went wrong. You will be the first one answerable before god. Why did you forget who a priest was? Why didn’t you know that the sanctity of a priest is equal to the holiness of Jesus’s heart. He has a human body, he can get temptations. If he might have forgot that for a few seconds, my child who has taken the holy communion, why didn’t you stop or correct him?

To top it, the chairman of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), a government role, was part of the cover-up. He was suspended by the archdiocese after Kerala government fired him from that position. It was only by chance that the cover-up wasn't successful as the police registered the complaint on the basis of documents with Childline Kerala. Closer examination reveals that Childline Kerala mostly has Catholic groups as nodal or collaborating organisations. Moreover, this is not an isolated case of a rape of minor in the Catholic church. Sandeep B shines a light on the pattern here.

The Catholic church, along with its various arms, clearly has problems with governance, and a significant number of the people it appoints to run schools turn out to be offenders. To compound this problem, the Right To Education Act and the 93rd Amendment to the Constitution of India denies Hindus the right to open and run schools autonomously.

The Supreme Court has upheld the 93rd Amendment and ruled that the Right To Education Act is almost entirely non-applicable to minority educational institutions. This ensures that a large number of Hindu-run and non-religious institutions are forced to shut down due to inability to meet the very costly input requirements and other regulations imposed by the Act. Those that survive are forced to raise the fee for non-quota students in order to survive. Data collected by the National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) reveals that 4,327 schools were closed due to the Right to Education Act in 2014 alone in six states for which data is available. In 2015-16, 3,332 schools shut due to the Act in the three states for which data is available.

Given that none of the stringent regulations applies to church-run institutions, they are pretty much the only ones that can provide affordable private education. Indian parents prefer private education, and the only option they now have are church-run and other minority-run institutions. Moreover, some non-Muslim parents tend to be apprehensive about sending their kids to study in Muslim-run institutions unless these institutions are well-disguised. The lack of non-Christian school options thus ensures that large segments of school education in India are a Christian monopoly.

More alarmingly, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) outsources part of its work under the Right to Education Act to church-associated non-governmental organisations across the country. According to the Right to Education Act, the NCPCR is responsible for enforcing important parts of the Act dealing with the protection of children from precisely such situations (sexual abuse and other forms of harassment). The NCPCR does so through Childline Foundation, which in turn outsources it to clergy-staffed church organisations. Effectively, we have asked the criminal’s relatives to report the crimes committed by said criminal.

Questions remain

In light of these issues, we as a society and polity need to ask if it is moral to continue to keep a law which denies parents the option to send their kids to affordable non-church-run educational institutions. More urgently, we need to question the central government’s silence over the apparent conflicts of interests which exist in the functioning of Childline – a key aspect of the Right to Education Act.

Shreyas Bharadwaj is a Hindutvawadi from Mysuru who is interested in writing about cities and public policy.

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