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Church weighs protest closure

Chennai, Oct. 9: Rattled by the Jayalalithaa government’s anti-conversion Ordinance, the Church is thinking of exerting pressure through a “last-resort” shutdown of its most enduring secular contribution — schools and colleges.

Leaders from all Christian denominations are gathering in Madurai tomorrow to chalk out a course of action against the Ordinance, which bars conversions by “force, allurement or fraudulent means”.

The Church feels the decree has been cleverly worded to leave room for manipulation and misuse. The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Churches here, Aruldas James, has hinted at the possibility of a “token closure” of all Church-run educational institutions in Tamil Nadu as a mark of protest. The state has around 1,000 schools and colleges run by Christian organisations with the Protestants alone accounting for 500 establishments.

But the Church is proceeding with caution. “It is early to say what we actually intend to do,” said V. Devasahayam, bishop of the Diocese of Madras under the Church of South India (CSI) — a Protestant denomination.

Archbishop James, however, was quick to add that a shutdown could be the last resort.

“Whatever we intend to do, it will be united action and there will not be any gap among the churches,” Devasahayam said. Hinting at the possibility of a wider campaign, he added: “We may even rope in other minorities into this collective action fold to press the state to withdraw the Ordinance.”

Jayalalithaa — herself an alumnus of the Church Park Convent in Chennai — had shown unusual haste in pushing through the Ordinance but sources in the government said she could delay its enactment in the face of opposition.

The sources said the Bill to convert the Ordinance into law could be referred to a select committee of the Assembly in the coming session. That would keep the door open to the BJP while not angering the minorities immediately.

The Ordinance has been “consciously worded” to leave scope for manipulation, because a term such as “allurement” cannot be legally defined and is open to interpretation, Devasahayam said.

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