The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spare pupils conversion ruckus: HC

Chennai, Oct. 23: Can schools and colleges run by minority institutions be shut down even for a day for “religious reasons” to protest against the Tamil Nadu government’s Ordinance banning forcible conversions'

Madras High Court today took up the controversial issue after a batch of public interest litigations questioned the decision of nearly 6,000 Christian and other minority institutions to remain closed tomorrow.

The high court first bench of Chief Justice Subashan Reddy and Justice Nagappan said its “prima facie view” was the proposed closure “is not clothed with any legal sanction”. Reddy also asked the counsel for the academic bodies whether this was the “only way of showing protest”.

Ramanikumar, chief of the state BJP’s legal cell, and M. Krishna, joint secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s Tamil Nadu unit — who filed the main two petitions — pleaded the court to declare the closure decision “illegal and unconstitutional”. They argued that most of the institutions were state-aided and supplemented the activities of the government, so they could not be closed down for religious reasons or “reasons totally alien to education”.

The Judges heard preliminary arguments on the PILs after adjourning to tomorrow a separate petition filed by Thangaraj, a Christian clergyman from Tiruttani, challenging the Ordinance.

The court posted the main PILs for further hearing to January, but upheld the “relevance” of Rule 77 of the Tamil Nadu Educational Institution Rules in which the list of holidays have been notified. “Can you close down the institutions to protest against the Ordinance'” Reddy asked the counsel for the minority institutions at one stage.

The judges said the “purpose declared” by the institutions was not “contemplated by any provision constitutional or statutory”. “The court,” they added, “knows no religion.”

Reddy made a distinction between the right of minority institutions to protest and their right to shut down. He asked how they could, after challenging the law in court, take recourse to “extra-legal means”.

The counsel for the church fathers said the closure was decided about two weeks ago and was a “peaceful form of protest”. Moreover, a holiday had already been declared. At this, one of the petitioners’ counsels shot back: “You can’t declare a holiday without sanction from the authorities.” The counsel also pointed out that many students were from the majority community and a closure would affect their fundamental rights.

The judges said no student “shall be involved” in the protest as students “are our future hope”. They “shall not be dragged into any kind of controversies be it religious or political and shall be spared only for the purpose of development activities related to education and sports so that they go out as healthy and secular citizens of India”.

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