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Church push for statute lessons in schools

New Delhi: The Catholic Church is pushing its two-year-old module for teaching the Constitution at all its educational institutions, trying to use the interest generated by several archbishops stressing the importance of constitutional values and subsequently facing attacks from Right-wing critics.

Fr Joseph Manipadam, national secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's Office for Education and Culture, wrote to bishops across the country on Monday about this. He sent them copies of the lesson plans and a "My India Pledge" that may be recited at school and college assemblies to "inculcate patriotism''.

Fr Manipadam told this newspaper that Catholic institutions had always taught constitutional values in their moral science classes. The latest lesson plans were drawn up in 2016 to ensure that these values became part of education at every level, as a lived experience to be undergone through various activities.

Besides getting the students to memorise the Preamble to the Constitution, the lesson plans seek to explain the importance of the Preamble and the significance of every word in it, including the opening words: "We, the people...."

"These words have immense constitutional and political significance. They say that the people are the source of the Constitution: it is the people of India who are the makers of the Constitution.... It declares the ultimate sovereignty of the people of India and (asserts) that the Constitution rests on their authority,'' the teaching module says.

Seven key words in the Preamble - sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, justice and liberty - have been explained in considerable detail, with the information that two of these words were added through the 42nd Amendment.

Asked about the criticism of these two words - socialist and secular - on the ground that they were added during the Emergency, Fr Manipadam said: "The spirit that these two words seek to convey has always been an inherent part of the Constitution."

In the past few weeks, pastoral letters by the archbishops of Delhi and Goa expressing concern over recent attacks on constitutional values had drawn the Catholic Church into controversy, with supporters of the Narendra Modi government accusing the clergy of interfering in politics at the Vatican's prodding.

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