Minority snub for Christian schools

Guwahati, Dec. 29 : Nearly 200 Christian schools in Assam, including Don Bosco, are facing an uncertain future with Dispur reluctant to accord minority status to them.

Sources said these schools had applied for minority status certificate two years ago but the education department had remained non-committal. They said Dispur was considering putting the prerequisite of admitting at least 40 to 50 per cent Christian students before the schools could be accorded minority status. But these institutes would find it impossible to adhere to this condition, they added.

Schools such as the Don Bosco, which were set up by missionaries, are open to all religions and communities. Enrolment of non-Christian students in these schools is over 90 per cent in the state.
Ravi Sagar, an advocate of Gauhati High Court who has taken up the matter with the government on behalf of the Christian schools, said it was surprising why the Assam government was not responding positively and promptly. He said the matter was pending despite chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s assurance to the chairperson of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui, on July 12 last year that the minority status certificates would be issued within three months.
The minority tag will give the schools protection from political intervention in their education policy and other academic activities. A teacher of a Christian school said the minority status would help the schools maintain the highest quality of education and prevent politics.
With Dispur remaining non-committal on issuing minority status certificates, these schools face the possibility of getting converted into general category institutions, raising fears that the state government would impose its education policy on them.
Sagar, who heads the NGO, Legal Cell for Human Rights, said, “We are running from pillar to post to acquire the minority status certificates. Unfortunately, the education department is complicating the issue. When we filed an application under the RTI Act in 2007, seeking information about the appropriate authority to issue such certificates, it said it did not have any such authority. Later, the government created an authority headed by Sohrab Ali, the joint secretary, education (elementary), to issue the certificates.”
Sagar said the latest ground being cited by the department for the delay was that it was awaiting a cabinet communication to determine the percentage of Christian students in these schools. “The department tells us that the percentage would be between 40 and 50, which would put the Christian schools in a quandary,” he said.
With the state government neither granting nor rejecting the minority status certificates, the schools are facing a predicament over approaching the national commission. Sagar said the schools could approach the commission only if the state government declined to issue the certificates or gave NOCs to the schools for approaching the central authority.
Sohrab Ali’s office said he does not talk to the media and no final decision had been taken on the matter of issuing minority status certificates.