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Call to battle Islamophobia

Kids should be taught compassion: Principal of Bishop’s College
Caleb gives the sermon at La Martiniere for Boys.
Caleb gives the sermon at La Martiniere for Boys.
Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Subhankar Chowdhury   |   Calcutta   |   Published 05.01.20, 11:03 PM

India harbours a “horrendous amount of Islamophobia” and its children need to be taught the “tenets of all religions rather than just the history syllabus”, a principal told the heads of Anglo-Indian schools here on Sunday.

Sunil M. Caleb, principal of Bishop’s College, Calcutta, stressed that children should be taught the values of compassion and inclusiveness so that they don’t “bully the weak or look down on who look different from the majority”.

“We have a horrendous amount of Islamophobia in our country. Why can we not have proper religious education classes where the children are taught about the tenets of all religions rather than just relying on what is taught in the history syllabus?” the assistant presbyter at St Andrew’s Church (Church of North India), Calcutta, said.

“We need to have separate religious education classes that teach clearly and truthfully the history and the basics of all religions of the world.”

Caleb was delivering a sermon during morning prayers at La Martiniere for Boys on the second day of the annual conference of the heads of all Anglo-Indian schools in India.

He said the trend of shunning minority communities stemmed from people’s tendency to find security and comfort in associating with those similar to them in race, language and religion. “The result is that we divide human society into ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

Caleb had joined a protest at Esplanade in December against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens.

On Sunday, he told The Telegraph that he wanted to stress the dangers of Islamphobia because “these black acts” bore testimony to how hatred towards the community was being propagated.

Caleb, a professor of Christian theology and Christian ethics, clarified that not just Hindus but many Christians too harboured Islamophobia.

“Christians are as much besieged with Islamophobia, which is making the danger graver. Islamophobia is not (confined to) Christians in India; it’s rampant in the West too,” he said.

“There has been a surge in Islamophobia among Americans since the rise of (President) Donald Trump. The shooting of Muslims in a church by a Christian fanatic in New Zealand last year (is an example). That’s why I highlighted the dangers of Islamophobia.”

Caleb told this newspaper that school history classes in India touched on the topic of religion “only in bits and pieces”, and this fostered ignorance rather than respect towards others’ religions.

“I don’t think even Hinduism is sincerely taught in our schools, forget about the non-Indian (origin) religions. But in the UK and Ireland they hold separate religious classes to develop a mutual respect towards religions,” he said.

“If our teachers discriminate between children on the basis of family, wealth, caste, religion, colour of skin, physical features or shape of the body, this will only encourage the more favoured children to do the same. Our country is full of very cruel prejudices which are totally against the inclusive practice of our Lord, and our Christian institutions must take the lead in breaking these unhelpful attitudes.”

Caleb wondered whether the schools could not make a special effort to educate children “not to bully the weak or look down on those who look different from the majority or speak a different language or follow a different religion”.

“Can our (school) assemblies and moral science and value-education classes be (where) we concentrate on teaching children the need for compassion and inclusiveness?” he said.

John Rafi, principal, La Martiniere for Boys, said during the prayers of intercession: “Lord bless our country with communal peace and concord, that differences of caste and creed do not divide us, that old wounds may be healed and there be mutual understanding and harmony among all sections of people.”

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