Targeting schools in Karnataka

Published : Nov 21, 1998 00:00 IST

The Bajrang Dal steps up a campaign against Christian educational institutions in Karnataka.

THE Sangh Parivar's storm troopers, activists of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have started a new intimidation campaign in Karnataka, specifically targeting schools and colleges run by Christian organisations and the Church. This has caused fear and a sense of insecurity among the teachers and administrators of such schools. In order to protest against the terror campaign, both in Karnataka and in other parts of the country, the All United Christian Voice, an umbrella organisation that brought together schools and colleges run by Christian denominations, organised a rally in Bangalore on November 11. The rally, attended by approximately 1.5 lakh people, was one of the largest Bangalore has seen.

The Bajrang Dal, which until recently had no presence in Karnataka, has launched a coordinated programme of intimidation and insult - and in some places physical assault - against the teachers, students and administrators of Christian schools, particularly convent schools. On July 17, 1998, the Bajrang Dal conducted simultaneous campaigns in cities and towns across Karnataka. Groups of men entered the premises of such schools and distributed copies of a set of 'commandments', which they said schools had to follow. Schools such as the Cluny Convent, Bangalore; the Sacred Heart Convent, Keshwapur, Hubli; the St. Mary's Convent School, Christ the King Convent School, Nirmala Convent School, St. Joseph's Convent School and Carmel Convent School, all in Mysore; the St. Joseph's Convent School and St. John's Convent School in Mandya; and the St. Joseph's Girls High School in Bellary reported such incidents.

The pamphlets distributed in all places were identical and were printed on the letterhead of the local Bajrang Dal unit. It accused convents of propagating the Christian religion; of converting the poor to Christianity; of encouraging 'Western' dress, dance and other cultural practices; of showing disrespect to national leaders; of not putting up pictures of Ganesha and Saraswati in the schools; of forcibly collecting money from children; of disallowing girls from wearing bindi, bangles and flowers, and so on. Based on this, a second pamphlet laid out a set of 12 specific 'Hinduisation' demands that the schools were to follow.

"On July 17, at 12-30 p.m. a group of 15 youth and a few elderly men came to my school along with an Inspector from the local police station," Sister Dominique, Mother Superior of the Cluny Convent in Bangalore, told Frontline. "The Inspector told me that they wanted to present a memorandum to me. So I met them at the gate." They then listed some of their "grievances" (given in the pamphlet) and told her that they would come back. A few days later, about six men came to the school office, and once again accused the school authorities of denigrating Hinduism and propagating Christianity. "They asked me why our school had recently made a video cassette on the founder of our Order, and not on Mahatma Gandhi," said Sr. Dominique. "'Do you think only foreigners can do great things, not Indians?' one of the men demanded to know," she said. Sr. Dominique added that nuns now felt insecure.

In a letter to Governor Khurshid Alam Khan, the Catholic Bishop of Mysore, Rt. Rev Dr. Joseph Roy, said that in Mysore, Bajrang Dal activists forcibly applied vermilion on the foreheads of grown-up girls of Christ the King Convent School and tried to do the same to members of the staff. Last year, Bajrang Dal activists allegedly entered St. Mary's Convent School while the school assembly was going on. One of the activists snatched the microphone and spat in the face of a nun who dared to protest. In the Nirmala Convent, Mysore, they allegedly snatched a copy of the Bible from a nun and threw it in the waste-paper basket.

After the November 11 rally in Bangalore, a delegation of Christian religious leaders and principals of schools and colleges presented a memorandum to Chief Minister J.H. Patel and the Governor, listing the incidents and requesting them to take action against the guilty.

"Doordarshan blacked out news of our rally, although it was the largest and most peaceful rally the city has seen," said Sajan K. George, coordinator, All United Christian Voice. "When we complained to the Director (of the Bangalore Kendra), he said that it was because of a bureaucratic bungle, and apologised."

Father Sunith Prabhu, Principal of St. Joseph's Indian Boys High School, Bangalore, said that it was up to the Government to come down on those who perpetrated such violence. "Right-thinking people and those who have studied in our schools should react to this and a bring a sense of solidarity to us," he said.

THE president of the Bangalore district unit of the Bajrang Dal, Uttam Chand Jain Kataria, told Frontline that the Bajrang Dal had decided to launch a statewide campaign as "Hindu culture was being destroyed by convent schools." He denied that there were any incidents of violence involving Bajrang Dal activists on this matter, and said that he would "apologise" if it was proved that the activists had misbehaved.

"That day we could go to only two schools in Bangalore although we should have gone to all of them," Kataria said. Then he asked, raising his voice: "Why are they sending children to rallies in support of their causes? They treat our children like dogs."

Asked what the Bajrang Dal planned to do if the schools did not fall in line, he said: "They are already realising their mistakes and are making changes."

He added that he would inform Frontline if the Bajrang Dal planned any further campaign.

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