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Church struggles against Indian state’s stifling education order

Catholic Church leaders are up in arms against a government ordinance in India's Kerala state, saying it infringes on their constitutional right to manage educational institutions.

“The new ordinance will adversely affect the functioning of colleges we fund and manage in the state,” said Archbishop Andrews Thazath, chairman of the public affairs commission of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Church leaders, who studied the law for three weeks after it was promulgated on Feb. 20, say they plan to join other groups to move court seeking the withdrawal of the law.

The law promulgated by the communist-led government in the southern state stipulates that all self-financing colleges, funded and managed by private entities, should follow state guidelines on the appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff and their service conditions.

Church leaders say it takes away the right of self-financing colleges to appoint staff and decide independently the payments, transfer, leave, promotions and other service conditions of staff.

They want the government to withdraw the law, saying it violates the constitutional rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and manage educational institutions for the betterment of their communities.

The federal government’s national education policy gives more freedom to private players in education but the Kerala government is trying to stifle this freedom, told Archbishop Thazath on March 9.

The new law says staff service conditions and entitlement also need to follow a pattern established in the state. All disputes should be settled by the decision of the state-run university to which a private college is affiliated.

“This leaves little scope for private management to take even disciplinary action against a staff member,” told Father Charles Leo, secretary of the education commission of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council.

“The government order has blatantly violated minorities’ rights to establish and manage an education institution. “

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