Clarence High School, a Bengaluru-based educational institution which finds itself in the midst of controversy after it was alleged that they were forcing students to learn the Bible, has made its position clear – “Every parent who has applying for admission were first informed of the school’s internal rules and signed the pledge that they had no objection to their children learning the religious text.
Even as right-wing Hindu group Janajagruti Samithi alleged ‘religious conspiracy and coercion’, parents and News18 alumni refuted it, saying learning the Bible in the program did not affect their religious beliefs.
A few parents said they applied to the school because the tuition was affordable, but they did not feel that the teachings of the Bible were being forced on their children.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) has opened an investigation into the controversy. The school has begun legal consultations over the case which they say is “libelous and baseless”.
Established in 1914, the school clarified that no parent was forced to sign the pledge which mentioned that the child would have to take the scripture course as part of the program.
“No parent raised or objected to it even after signing the pledge,” school principal Jerry George Mathew told News18. com. “Each parent has signed a letter of no objection and 75% of the students at the school are from the Christian community. Even non-Christians accepted the rule.
Mohan Gowda, spokesman for the Hindu state Janajagruti Samithi, said: “The school administration forced the parents to sign a statement that students must carry and read the Bible. It’s a religious conspiracy. This is in violation of Articles 25 and 30 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court also said that no one can impose religious teachings on children of other religions.
The school policy has a subsection titled Parent Declarations which reads: “You affirm that your child will attend all classes, including morning assembly, scripture class, and clubs for his or her own moral and spiritual well-being and will not object to carrying the Bible and hymnal while at Clarence High School.
The scriptures were one of the subjects taught up to class 9. The school followed the Indian Council of Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) curriculum, so it was not included in the class 10 exams.
“Legal advice is sought on ways to deal with false allegations,” Principal Mathew told News18.
“JUST ANOTHER SUBJECT”
Dr. Hamid Sulaiman, a well-known doctor based in Bengaluru and an alumnus of the school, said his parents chose the school because they wanted to give him the best education possible.
“At no time did we think of our classmates as Hindus, Muslims or Christians. We have never had the impression that we gave more importance to a religion. My parents always told us that learning any religious scripture would only improve our knowledge and make us a better person. Sometimes I was leading in the scriptures too. When we attended the class, we never felt like we had to learn the Bible. Whether we read the Bible, the Bhagvad Gita or the Quran, we were told to learn good moral values,” said Dr Sulaiman, who died at school in 1986.
Another recently passed out student from the school who did not want to be named said the class was compulsory and many of their classmates were Christians and it was a minority school it was taken for granted that the Bible would be taught.
When asked if the rule of carrying the Bible and hymnal was a cause for concern, the student replied, “I didn’t mind. It was just another subject.
A parent whose daughter was admitted to LKG this year said that although they asked school authorities why the scriptures were required, management told them it had been part of the school’s tradition since its inception.
“We were interviewed online and told about the school’s curriculum. My husband was a school alumni. We asked the school the same question his parents had asked when my husband was admitted. However, we accepted as my husband felt the education provided was very good,” the parent told News18.
Another elder who also wished to remain anonymous said he was taught passages from the religious text and detailed analysis with modern anecdotes.
“We studied the Bible until class 9. But then if we had been taught the Bhagvad Gita or the Gurbani or any other religious text, we would have learned it too,” said the former student who passed out in 2015.
Karnataka Congress Party member and alumnus of the school, Keshav Rajannna shared his thoughts, saying that learning any religious text only inculcates discipline and values.
“It’s just to create a political narrative and controversy. There are a lot of political people who want their kids to be in this school. They are lining up during admission season. But they won’t talk now. If the allegation is about conversion, my children and I studied at this school and have remained Hindus for the past 50 years, I don’t know of anyone who has converted,” he said.
“The former Union minister, CM Ibrahim, studied with a mutt and he knows Sanskrit. Did that make him a Hindu? On the contrary, it enriched him. We all study in institutions that give us good values and a good education. We are not going there to convert. Have there been any forced conversion complaints so far? Each parent has freedom of choice and no one is forced to be admitted to a particular school. It is their decision,” he added.
He added, “I believe that every religion has good values that can be learned, so the school can include texts from all religions.”
Several right-wing supporters have taken to social media to voice their objection to the matter. Many called it “forced conversion,” “Christian evangelical terrorism,” among other hashtags.
Karnataka’s Minister of Primary and Secondary Education BC Nagesh has said that no educational institution can compel people to follow a certain religious practice. He added that if an institution is found doing so, strict action will be taken against it.
“No institution can teach religious manuals. As you know, the Bible is a religious book of Christianity. Such things cannot be taught in our institutions. Whether it is a minority institution or other institutions, no religious practice is allowed,” the minister told this reporter over the phone.
Interestingly, this controversy comes at a time when the education department of Karnataka is considering introducing the Bhagvad Gita as part of the school curriculum.
“I haven’t seen what it is exactly. I will ask my authorities to inquire and speak to management. I heard they are a law abiding school. They have consulted their lawyers on this matter and they will follow their advice,” the minister added.
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