Valley schools in faith row
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- Published 16.10.09
Srinagar, Oct. 16: The Catholic Church has threatened to shut its schools in the Valley after a row with these institutions’ mainly Muslim teachers, citing their alleged anti-Christian activities as one of the reasons.
The Church runs three secondary schools in Kashmir —Burn Hall and Presentation Convent in Srinagar and St Joseph’s in Baramulla — with over 7,000 students on their rolls. All three are more than a century old and are among the best schools in the Valley.
The teachers, particularly those at St Joseph’s, have been agitating for a raise, claiming their salaries have been static for five years. But the row is taking on communal overtones.
Church liaison officer Joseph T.K. said the school authorities were facing constant interference and harassment by the teachers. “They raised anti-Christian and anti-religious slogans during a recent protest. We have asked the government to investigate the real motive behind these slogans,” he said.
Father Verkey T.J., vice-president of the Diocese of Jammu-Srinagar Education Society, which runs these schools, said: “If a conducive atmosphere is not provided to Church-run institutions in the state, the society would not be left with any option but to close down the institutions till the return of a congenial atmosphere.”
Another office-bearer, who didn’t want to be named, said it appeared the teachers were acting at the behest of “outsiders who do not want missionary schools to operate in the Valley”.
Church authorities have met chief minister Omar Abdullah demanding security at all their institutions.
The teachers say all they want is higher pay but the management is “giving it a communal colour” to silence them.
“Our salaries were on a par with those of government teachers till 2004 but there has been no hike since then. Instead, some of us had to take pay cuts. The school bylaws say there should be a pay revision every year but our principal has amended them,” a St Joseph’s teacher said. “The management also suspended two teachers, which aggravated the situation.”
The teacher said the three schools stood on government land at the best locations in the Valley.
“The land costs hundreds of crores but the schools pay the government a few thousand rupees in rent — an amount they get from just one student in a year. These are commercial institutions that charge handsome fees, so what is wrong if they pay us decently?” he asked.
Fr Joseph, however, said the teachers were paid well and that a salary hike would put an additional burden on the students.
The state director of education, Shagufta Parveen, said: “I will examine the matter thoroughly.”