Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sign me up for Jesus class

There are certain things about India that I just don't understand.

Like the story of the "occult ceremony" at Loreto Convent school in Lucknow. What has now been entirely blown out of proportion by the media was originally an ill-conceived assembly at which a priest was to speak; rather than, or perhaps in addition to, addressing the students, the priest fell to the ground, began writhing, then declared that Jesus had entered his body.

Unorthodox, yes. But cause for a 30-minute news program at prime time? Cause for continuing coverage in the national newspapers, and a story distributed worldwide by Reuters? It's going a little too far. A frequent refrain I've heard is "Keep religion out of schools!" Now, brought up to firmly believe in the separation of church and state, one might imagine that I agree with this argument. But people seem to be forgetting that this is not a government-run school, but rather a private Christian institution, which parents pay to send their children to. I guess I'm saying, is it really so unexpected that Christianity is being promoted at a religious school? Should we protest madrasas because they instruct students according to the teaching of the Koran -- or do you not care because many Muslims in India are poor and marginalized, whereas the Christian community is relatively successful?

On one online forum,
a respondent takes up this argument. I just can't help but think this poor chap -- and many of his peers -- is sorely misguided; it seems to me that the Indian government has so let down its people that faulty logic and conspiracy theories have become more sacred than demanding the provision of quality services for all. The man argues that another poster has erred in pointing out that parents should remove their children from private Christian schools if they so object to such religious overtones. He writes: My wife who is from is from Loreto, had to say prayers and she did not like it. But her mother told her never to complain because there were no other good schools there. now why other aided / unaided schools can not compete with convents is because there are discriminatory laws in a so called secular India. For example, missionaries always talk abt the caste system as a failure in Hinduism and a reason to convert. but, when other unaided ‘majority, institutions have to be ’socially responsible’ as per the 104th amendment, minority institutions do not have to. This means all institutions EXCEPT minority institutions are subject to reservations and other govenrment directives and supervision. This dilutes the quality of ‘majority’ institutions. how is this fair? christians form 3 to 4% of India’s population, but control more than 20% of ed institutions. don’t you think its unfair advantage to a community that is so empowered??? surely the idea behind giving special privileges to minorities is protection of their culture and values and religion and NOT AIDING THEIR CONVERSION EFFORTS THROUGH DISCRIMINATORY LAWS? have you thought abt this angle? have you tried to understand the root cause of this anger? let me be clear that i do not support vandalism or violance in any form. but the media only reports violance and never reports on the discrimination against the 80% Hindus. this is the friction.

The error in his logic, it seems, is that government supervision denigrates the quality of schools under its purview, and thus "minority institutions" -- which he has used as a synonym for "Christian school," though it would technically include...well, any school not run by a quasi-Hindu authority? But that's another fish to fry -- must lower themselves so as not to compete with government schools. Why, WHY isn't this man demanding that the government build more and better schools? Nothing is preventing non-Christians from building strong institutions; and only bureaucratic torpor and a sense that they can get away with providing poor quality education to those unable to afford private institutions prevents the government from pursuing reform (well, that and money, visionaries, etc.).
I understand that parents want the best for their children, and that certain conflicts arise between what one wants and what one would have in a perfect world. But if you have already made this trade-off -- in this case, choosing to send the child to a private school although it is run by a religious minority -- you have no foot to stand on to raise a hue and cry about the indecency of religious ceremonies (even if they are a bunch of hoo-ha and an incredibly bad judgment call on the part of the school administration). Oh, yeah -- it's not the parents who are raising objections here. It's the media, it's the man on the street, and it's politicians. Let the parents, the school, and the students deal with this on their own terms; it's far more abominable for Hindu fundamentalists to physically desecrate the school than for a crackpot to claim he's possessed by Jesus and writhe around on the floor for a few minutes.


Anonymous said...

The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, despite minor dents.
WITH A Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabads Old city everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside flags and posters of its Leadership. The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.
The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.
The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.
By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.
According to historians, over 1,50,000 such 'volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Hindu populations, the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar 'agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these 'volunteers’.
But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and did not even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.
Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.
The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise.
This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.
Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'’, he argues.
This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.
Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and 'protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.
The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.
Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously'’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.
A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.
The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.
He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.
“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state'’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation and the party has another young Owaisi as the leader Akbaruddin Owaisi who is an Mla himself and now leads the party in the State Assembly and a person who is considered to be very charismatic hails in his speeches which attracts thousands of people says Muslims are been subjugated to torture and there business being destroyed in an organized manner by hindu communalist belonging to the right wing hindu party BJP .He also says some people among the community which are trying to divide the Muslims in Hyderabad by the false propoganda are infact being paid by the BJP and there aim is to finish Majlis party in India but there dreams will be shattered amidst applause from his supporters

Diana said...

Things we don't get about India - what is not to understand? It's called mob mentality, media hype, bottled up frustrations that need a vent.
The BJP has already passed anti-conversion laws in some states, this issue about "attempt to convert" has grown out of hand. The constitution says it is perfectly permissable for people to "attempt to convert". The issue should be whether legal or fraudulent means are used.

Are you christian?

Thank you for linking to my blog in your quote, you may add a comment in my original post if you want trip (the misguided respondent as you call him/her) to read your views on this.


Gamesmaster G9 said...

I'm afraid its not as black and white as you make it out to be. The contract signed between the parents and the school clearly did not give the school permission to propagate superstition. Just because it is a Christian school, doesn't mean it gets a free pass on civilised behaviour.

An analogy would be a woman who accompanies a man home and is then raped. Just because she agreed to go with him does not in any way excuse the criminal act that followed. And the fact that the parents aren't protesting is neither here nor there. A crime is a crime, irrespective of who is complaining or not.

Jayesh said...

Well there are enough convents in India who in the garb of 'moral science' and holistic education just try their hands at proselytization. And they have two assets better education brand since they have been there for donkeys years and of course funds. Plus many convents also have a no mehendi no flowers policy which is a bit discriminatory. I have heard of stories of poor girls who would use all kinds of cleansers to remove mehendis after attending marriages of their closed ones just to please some convent school thick headmistress or father. And if someone points all this , he is a right wing fundamentalist. So much for secularism in India.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is preventing non-Christians from building strong institutions; and only bureaucratic torpor and a sense that they can get away with providing poor quality education to those unable to afford private institutions prevents the government from pursuing reform (well, that and money, visionaries, etc.)

As a private person you cannot open a school. (Note, school, not university) End of story. Unless you are a minority. In practice unless you are a religious minority. I know leftism eats away the brain and renders you unable to read anything other than propaganda, but this was clearly mentioned in the bit you highlighted.

< mutters > ... idiot! < \mutters >

Never Just An Ordinary Girl said...

Some clarifications:

-- No, I am not a Christian; I'm vaguely spiritual, but moreover interested in the sociology of religion

-- Gamesmaster: Of course the parents did not sign a contract that encouraged or even allowed the propagation of superstition. But the argument that I am making is not about the rightness or wrongness of the ceremony; I am concerned with the fact that this event has been hijacked by outsiders for political purposes, and that this has mushroomed from an unfortunate incident that should and could be addressed by the people who witnessed it or who pay money to the educational institution, to one that drives communal tension and encourages a backlash against...religion? Bad judgment? Innocent students? I'm not sure, but the fallout is not aimed at ensuring this doesn't happen again or making change, but rather at decrying some hazy cloud of issues that have little relation to what is materially at stake here

-- Jayesh -- I understand that the policies these convent schools have may be discriminatory. But they are not financed by the government, they are financed by private backers and parents who send their children to the school. If they object to making their daughters scrub the mehendi from their hands, why send them to a school at which this is a necessity? This is a structurally very large issue, and I don't claim to have any answers to improving government-sponsored educational institutions. But it is a fundamental right enshrined in Indian law that primary education must be universal; if the quality of this education is poor, avoiding the schools -- rather than sending your children to them, becoming involved in its day-to-day activities, and forcing improvements that won't come unless a broad, diverse group of stakeholders demand the government improves the service that will ultimately feed the nation -- is not the answer. Again, I understand that my "solution" may be sanguine, far too long term, and ignorant to the fact that parents will provide the best for their children even if it is a hardship, but that's what the Internet is for, right?

-- Anonymous: It's certainly one reading of the sentence, but I think it is a bit ignorant to take my statement as a literary call for individuals to place bricks atop one another, anoint themselves principal, etc. If you progress past the first sentence of the excerpt you have chosen, you can see that I am clearly addressing the power of individuals to influence the government. And the government, last I checked, had the power to build, run, raze schools -- and do whatever they damn well please. Yes, it may be "perfect-world" thinking, but I believe in the power of common people to drive change; what would happen if all the parents of Loreto Convent students took their children out of the school and placed them in government-run institutions? What would happen if, instead of decrying the absent teachers and blaming some larger power for not handing them education on a platter, they forced the issue -- showed up at the school everyday, petitioned the police, and used the media's propensity to blow every little event out of proportion to highlight the need for change?

Anonymous said...

I feel like a grizzled old veteran with hair coming out of my ears for saying what I am going to say, but...

Yes, it may be "perfect-world" thinking, but I believe in the power of common people to drive change;

So you should put the words "I believe" in large letters on the top of your post. Look at game theoretic models of economics. Local obstructions are more than enough to prevent a system to reach global equilibrium. Common people cannot drive changs in our system. The AIIMS doctors/students are hardly common people and even they did not succeed. (They may eventually, but that is not certain)

I will deconstruct your pipe dreams, oops beliefs one by one

what would happen if all the parents of Loreto Convent students took their children out of the school and placed them in government-run institutions?

1. Have you been to a govt run institution? No sane parent would do that. Columbia Univ in NYC abuts Harlem, at one point one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US, with abysmal govt schools (called public schools in the US). By law, if you send your child to a public school, you have to send her to the local school. Many a Columbia prof, hearts brimming over with liberal notions would go to take a look at the local monstrosity of the public school, before running away and putting their ward at a model school that Columbia co-established (hence accepting children of Columbia faculty, no matter where they live). Point of this? Words are cheap. Advice cheaper. Do it to your own child first.
2. What would happen: To the school, nothing. They would just get a special batch. No govt school would admit anyone in the middle of the school year. And certainly not in the middle of the school year. The student's career would spring a leak. Oh, the joys of selling in a monopoly market!

What would happen if, instead of decrying the absent teachers and blaming some larger power for not handing them education on a platter, they forced the issue -- showed up at the school everyday, petitioned the police, and used the media's propensity to blow every little event out of proportion to highlight the need for change?

1. Loss of livelihood for every day the said parent showed up in school. They might not gain entrance into the school. They might be beaten back from the school doors. Even the police might do that. After all, that is a law and order problem. Police is politicised. Media is fickle. Who knows who the school authorities have influence with. The catholic church is mighty powerful. Many of the media personalities went to catholic school. Hey, even I did. And I would see those parents as nutcases.

And now you can't say I did a selective reading of your comment. But hey, leftists never learn. Until they go look for a teaching job in WB

Never Just An Ordinary Girl said...


You make some good points, I will concede. I stand by my idealism. I know that that's not very useful in the real world. But, putting all this aside, do you have anything constructive to add? I don't mean to sound defensive, but it's all well and good to tear down every argument. It would be much more helpful if you posed some alternative. What are people supposed to do? Send BJP workers in to bash up the school? Have Lucknow close all its convent schools until the problem blows over? What about a more long-term strategy?

I'm more than willing to entertain other ideas, but you don't seem inclined to do anything but grumble about my liberal mores.

Anonymous said...


I am pretty pessimistic in general. I think we will have to pay the price of socialistic/communistic policies. Bad Karma and all that. I don't see the politicians / bureaucrats relinquishing power. Why should they? People like me, and probably you, already have a career and trying to change things in one go is too risky. The best we can hope for is incremental change, and not that that is not happening. I remember the total sense of hopelessness of late eighties. Go see some of the very last Ray movies (if you understand bengali) to see what I mean. His earlier movies, say Mahanagar, were much more hopeful. Things have certainly improved from then. The one group that can make a bigger difference are students, probably from the suburbs, who don't have too much to lose, but it would be a downside for their individual careers.

I think what everyone is hoping for is a gradual development of economics. So even politicians have some upside from economic growth. I see some of that happening in WB, where even hardcore marxists cheer development, because it is their money on the line. By contrast, I am absolutely terrified of the ideological extremists from the delhi band of leftists (e.g. the Karat family) which brand has not actually won a single election and thus do not know how to manage disagreement and do not have a stake in India's development. I do consider them a much bigger threat than bjp.

bjp had a few competent leaders, like Shourie, who now seem to be marginalized now. cong, i dont even want to mention.

Basically, i think the solution is not going to come from the politics or even from journalism induced frenzies. It is going to come, if it does, from slow unspectacular day to day improvements in economics. I hope that the politicians and ill informed journalists and other assorted hangers-on move out of public life after taking their cuts. I think what might happen is that public life will expand in ways that are not easily controllable by the establishment, blogs being one example, and the fact that so many people are able to comment on public issues is driven by not only technology, but also economic prosperity.

So basically my take is: sh** happens, but life seems to be improving, if slowly.

I notice, that I haven't really adderssed explicitly your "what to do" question. I have some ideas, mostly clever variations of the same underlying theme: "nothing". I really think when do-gooders try to change things for good, they end up causing more misery than existed before. Which is why I am afraid of the Karat type much more. They are educated, well-meaning and ideologically driven.

So I would root for a situation where we get more freedoms and far less govt. The govt certainly doesnt have a good record for achieving anything substantial. All the good institutions we have: IITs eg, got that way because a "few good men" fought the good fight and maintained their autonomy.

Why should schools be any different? Policing is traditionally considered to be a govt prerogative. State power and all that. Do you like your local police station? The problem of private police forces, though, is one of accountability. May be idealism at a different level is needed: some sort of honour code? Code of the Kshatriyas perhaps? I dont really know. I wish we had ways of doing experiments here, because I dont believe anyone really knows. and if someone says otherwise, I would be very afraid

Anonymous said...

Urdu Media War and the Wakf properties tussle in Hyd ; MiM Leader Akbaruddin Owaisi
(Friday, Dec 09, 2005 - 09:00 pm) TeamMedia war among Urdu dailies was taken to Assembly in Hyderabad, when MIM floor leader Akbaruddin Owaisi accused Siasat and Munsif Urdu daily owners of grabbing Wakf properties and demanded stern action against them.Mr Owaisi armed with statistics and details of all Waqf Lands which are being encroached upon said govt is going soft on these editors as they are trying to threaten the govt through there newspapers .In the same breath, He also alleged that no action was taken against grabbers of Wakf properties in city and outside including Viceroy Hotel, Shaam and Sensation theatres, local reports inform. Turning his ire on owners of rival Urdu dailies, Siasat and Musif, he said, "Mr Zahid Ali Khan has illegally encroached Wakf property. He is a white collar land grabber. Why is the government keeping quite? You should put them behind bars." Shifting his heat on another Urdu daily Munsif owner, he remarked, "Mr Khan Lateef Khan...the double Khan.. too has encroached Wakf properties housing Santosh and Sapna theatres, yet no action has been taken. The government should take stringent action against encroachers of Wakf properties," he alleged. Reacting to Mr Owaisi's demand, minister for minorities welfare Mohd Fareeduddin assured that the government would enquire into the matter and would not "spare anyone however big he might be." Referring to allotment of land to one Tajuddin, he said the land was given on a lease for three years for agricultural purposes and the renewal would depend on the government He also accused them of trying to cover there illegal grabbing of land by bribing some high officals in the govt

trip said...

Yes its the misguided respondent.

the problem with my logic is that you did not understand it. when i said 'social responsibility', it not only means 'lowering of the standard in public perception', it also means 'reservations', it means govt can limit the fees you can collect and can dictate the admission criteria. Funny thing here is that all i'm asking is equality, and what do i get, a character certificate. lets assume that loreto was built by the british with taxes collected from christians only, that convents don't get any foreign money (200 crores to missions in Karnataka only in 2005, and yes, FEMA does not apply to it!!!), but surely the super smart conventt schools don't need any special privileges? they control 20% of the ed institutions, when they are only 3-4% and growing? even though i'm misguided, if you can justify the unequal treatment, u'll find me very reasonable and receptive. but the argument that 'u'll get discriminatory treatment but why don't u do more to make up' doesn't fly with me.

i'll post my anto BJYM comments on sites that support their vandalism.