MUMBAI, India – A representative of the local Catholic bishops’ council called the remarks of an Indian High Court judge attacking Christian education “unfortunate.”
Madras High Court Justice S. Vaidyanathan on Friday said, “there is a general feeling among parents of students, especially female students, that coeducational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children.”
The judge was speaking about a case involving a professor at Madras Christian College (MCC) accused of sexually harassing dozens of female students.
The MCC, affiliated with the Protestant church, is one of the most prestigious in India, educating the country’s elite for generations.
Samuel Tennyson, an assistant professor in the Zoology department, had gone to court seeking to overturn the findings of the college’s internal complaints committee, which had substantiated the charges. The college had officially reprimanded him, and curtailed his academic activity for the semester. It also banned him for accompanying students on field trips for three years.
The court denied his request, but Vaidyanathan used the opportunity to attack Christian schools in general.
“In the present era, there are several accusations against them for indulging in the compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity. Though they impart good education, their preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question,” the judge said. “As long as a religion is practiced in streets in lieu of its worship places, like temple, mosque and church, such devastation, as in the present case, does occur and will be mushrooming.”
Father L. Sahayaraj, the deputy secretary of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, told Crux that Vaidyanathan’s remarks were “unfortunate,” especially since “compulsory conversion is not a matter for legal consideration here,” given the case was about sexual harassment.
“Christian institutions right from the beginning have never indulged in compulsory conversions,” the priest said.
Christians make up just 2.3 percent of India’s population, and more than half of them are Catholic. However, Christians have a disproportionate presence in the country’s educational, health, and social service sectors.
The Catholic Church runs nearly 55,000 educational institutions in the country, serving over 5 million students. The vast majority of the students and staff at these institutions are non-Catholic.
“At the time of admission in June every year, people of all faiths throng to the Christian institutions for the admission for their children with the only hope that discipline and quality of education will be available to them,” Sahayaraj continued. “Christian institutions have produced stalwarts in Hinduism and Islam. We can go on listing the great personalities studied in Christian institutions. Students studying in the Christian colleges will witness that no conversion is advocated among them.”
Since 2014, India has been ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
Incidents of harassment against Christians and other religious minorities have increased over the past five years across India, with various Christians being detained or arrested for “attempted conversion,” and places of worship being vandalized.
Catholic schools often come under attack from Hindu nationalists, who demand that Hindu religious rites be allowed to be performed on their premises.
Vaidyanathan didn’t just opine on the country’s Christian population, he also complained about legislation meant to protect India’s women, calling on the government to amend them “to prevent its misuse so as to safeguard the interest of the innocent masculinity too.”
“Certain laws lend themselves to easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to ‘teach a lesson to the male members’ and will file frivolous and false cases,” Vaidyanathan said, specifically mentioning India’s anti-dowry law.
Nearly one woman an hour is killed in India in dowry-related crimes, even though the practice has been illegal in the country for over 50 years.
Meanwhile, India’s National Crime Records Bureau reports that 100 sexual assaults are reported daily to police, even though India’s National Family Health Survey found that over 99 percent of sexual assaults in the country go unreported.
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