It was only natural that the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) saw the coming together of ten Christian Churches and the Nair Service Society to oppose education reforms as a prelude to a new ‘liberation struggle’. After all they were the prime movers behind the agitation against the Communist government’s proposals for educational reform 50 years ago.
Many movements in Kerala and their leaders are prisoners of the past. Each one has chosen a period from the past, built a prison there and remains happily in it. They need to be reminded once in a while that times have changed. This must be done without unnecessary provocation.
While the CPI (M) State Secretary tried to dissuade the Church leaders by reminding them of the changed circumstances, the Education Minister sought to save himself by stating that there were no proposals before government for educational reform.
What irked the Churches and the NSS were moves to transfer control of educational institutions from the State to the local bodies and to entrust the State Public Service Commission with the responsibility of appointing school teachers. It is no secret that the Left Democratic Front government is interested in both the ideas. Members of a committee set up by the government have indicated that it will make recommendations in this regard. So the plea that there is no proposal for reform before the government is merely a technical argument.
The Devaswom and Cooperation Minister and the Education Minister are two members of the government who have been making heroic statements periodically. For one and a half years the Devaswom Minister strove tirelessly to cleanse the temple administration. Eventually the High Court appointed someone else to look into temple matters. The Education Minister worked hard to rein in the self-financing colleges. Result: managements who were ready to settle for 75% of the seats got 100%! It was perhaps this experience that prompted him to surrender to the school managements even before the first shot was fired.
Those who favour change argue that since the government pays the salaries of private school teachers the power to make appointments must also vest in it. The government started paying salaries directly to teachers following widespread complaints that school managements who received grants from the state were not paying teachers’ salaries promptly. Recently a Church dignitary said that since the government was paying teachers’ salaries out of the tax revenue they were only getting what they were entitled to. The managements who did not pay salaries promptly after accepting the money from the state were guilty of misappropriation, which is a penal offence. But the state did not initiate legal action against them. The authorities must have the courage to bring the guilty to book.
The Churches made a big contribution to Kerala’s progress in education. But service was not their sole motive. In the early years, they were also interested in conversions. Neither service nor conversion is relevant today. Those who come forward to start educational institutions now are guided by profit motive. The Churches in Kerala enjoy favourable circumstances in comparison with the others. They have the benefit of the good reputation earned by Christian institutions by rendering good service over a long period. They also have the physical resources needed to set up new institutions. In some places, these include land generously made available by the state.
As a religious minority, the Christians are entitled to certain rights under the Constitution. Their demand that these should be protected is quite legitimate. However, the Churches are not a minority in the State’s education sector. On the contrary, they constitute the majority. According to official documents, 67.6% of the lower primary schools, 71.2% of the upper primary schools, 67.0% of the high schools and 58.0% of the higher secondary schools are under private managements. In the field of higher education, too, private managements are dominant. As many as 150 out of the 189 arts and science colleges and 70 of the 84 engineering colleges are under private managements. The situation is no different in the fields of medical and nursing education. Official documents do not indicate who owns how many private institutions. However, it will not be wrong to assume that a majority of them are under the control of the different Churches. The government has a duty to gather precise data before embarking upon educational reform.
As institutions that represent large sections of the population, the Churches have the responsibility to present their case without being provocative. Some recent public statements of Church leaders lacked the restraint expected of them. One of them was reported as saying teachers appointed by the government will not be allowed to teach in their schools. Such statements should be avoided. If the appointments are legally valid, the Churches have to accept them. Having conducted successful litigation against the state, the Church authorities know that it is for the courts to say whether the appointments are valid. One proposal mooted with regard to appointment of teachers is that the Public Service Commission or some other independent agency must prepare a list of persons eligible for appointment and the managements must be free to make appointments from that list. The Churches must respond constructively to such proposals which do not take away their rights with regard to appointment.
A Church dignitary recently asked all Christians to send their children only to Christian schools. An explanation followed that the suggestion was aimed at ensuring that the new generation imbibed Christian values, and was unconnected with the issue of educational reform. What will happen if all caste and religious groups think along these lines? The Churches, which made possible the social renewal that rescued Kerala from darkness by establishing modern educational facilities, should not become instrumental for a return to the lunatic asylum.
Based on “Nerkkazhcha” column, which appeared in Kerala Kaumudi on December 6, 2007