New Delhi, Dec. 13: The Catholic Bishops Conference of India has asked Catholic institutions to admit Christian students irrespective of merit and to provide free education to the needy from the community.
A circular it has issued says cut-off marks or fee structure should not come in the way of Christian students getting admission, and asks the institutions to treat the issue as an obligation and a duty.
The Catholic church wants to use education as a tool against poverty. This should be seen as an attempt to fight away the elitism associated with certain Christian institutions. We want Christian institutions to cater to Christian students of all classes and not necessarily to the elitist crowd, CBCI spokesperson Fr Babu Joseph said, adding the church would be happy if a school has only Christian students from all classes.
There are around 30,000 Catholic schools and 5,000 colleges across the country, which include top-ranking institutions that students would give anything to get a place in.
It is wrong to believe that admitting poor students will affect the standards of an institution. We want to prove wrong the belief that only the economically well-off can perform well, the spokesperson said.
The directive is just a reiteration of the Catholic Education Policy of 2007 that is aimed at increasing the number of seats for Christian students in Catholic institutions, he added.
Admission to convent schools and colleges, coveted by students across religions and classes, would be an especially attractive draw for the lower strata to the religion.
Christian education institution heads are not happy with the church decision.
Till now, reservation was restricted to government colleges. It is sad to see it creeping into private ones too. Any kind of reservation will dent the quality of education, said the chairman of a Christian institution on condition of anonymity.
The directive is likely to lose steam because institutions need money to run, he said. Even CBCI would admit that such an option is not viable, the chairman said.
The prestigious St Stephens College in Delhi has reserved 50 per cent of its seats for Christian students despite protests. Institutions aided by the state have to cap their minority quota at 50 per cent. Private unaided institutions are free to choose their students and can reserve any number of seats.
Sources said CBCI issued the circular after some Christian institutions were found refusing admission to poor students from the community fearing it would dilute the standards of their institutions.
If they want to use a Christian name to run the institutions, it is their moral right to impart education to Christian students, a priest said.
According to the Constitution and a Supreme Court judgment, minorities have been given the right to establish and administer institutions of their choice, precisely in order to preserve and strengthen their distinct culture. By using this provision to foster and deepen the Christian culture and values among our community members, most of whom are among the marginalised, we will fully realise our constitutional right, he said.
Academics and parents from other communities are against the move. When the need of the hour is to secularise the education system, the church move to reserve seats for Christian students sounds ridiculous, said Joe George, who teaches in a Christian college.
Mohit Dayal, a parent whose child goes to a convent in New Delhi, said: We prefer Christian convent schools as they ensure high standards. But if they also start this reservation system, then we will have to have a rethink.
But leaders of other minority communities seem to agree with the church. The Indian Constitution has provided some special rights to the minorities. This is not religion-based quota but affirmative action allowed by the Constitution, said Ahmed Siddiquie of the Muslim Education Trust.