MUMBAI, India – A Christian school was ordered closed in India on Dec. 26 based on a charge of “trying to convert students and their parents” by celebrating Christmas, although the order was later rescinded.
The incident involved St. Paul Higher Primary School in Ilkal in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka state, located in southern India.
Education Department officials closed the school following a complaint by some right-wing organizations and an inspection by an official.
In his order, the official had said that the school was being closed indefinitely for “celebrating Christmas in violation of rules,” but didn’t specify what rule was being violated.
“You have served meat in classrooms during Christmas celebrations on December 25. This has led to embarrassment to the public and the department. You have to keep the school closed till further orders. Legal action will be taken if you reopen the school without permission,’’ the order said.
However, the department withdrew the order after news of the closure of the school became public through the media on December 31. The school effectively remained closed for four days, as the order was issued on December 26, which was a Sunday.
The investigation came after Pradeep Amarannanavar, a convener of a group of Hindu nationalist organizations issued a complaint that the school was trying convert students and parents.
“The school management invited students and parents to school on Christmas Day, and offered them lunch with meat, wine and ‘Satya Veda’, a Kannada translation of the Bible. This is nothing but an attempt to convert Hindus into Christianity by allurement and force,’’ he said.
Hindus do not eat beef, and many devout Hindus avoid all meat and alcohol.
Jackson D. Marck, a member of the school management committee, denied the accusations.
“We are not converting anyone. First of all, the school is not run by Christian missionaries. It is run by some residents of Ilkal. The school committee includes members of all faiths. The school has students of all religions. The lunch [mentioned in the complaint] was not held in the school. The school is run in a rented premises,’’ he said.
Sajan K. George, the president of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said the incident is an “abuse and misuse” of Karnataka’s State Anti-Conversion Bill which was passed by the state assembly on Dec. 23. The bill is still awaiting passage by the legislative council to become law, but officials have started trying to enforce its provisions.
“The right-wing groups repeatedly target Christian institutions on baseless and fabricated conversion allegations, and even though St Paul’s School is not run by a church or a Christian missionary – it is run by private individuals – the name is sufficient to trigger hatred of the right-wing groups against the school with a Christian name,” he told Crux.
Karnataka is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is Hindu nationalist, and also rules the national government.
The anti-conversion law proposes a maximum punishment of a jail term of 10 years for “forcible religious conversion” of women, minors and people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, communities that have been marginalized for centuries in India.