|Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum addressing media after an inter-church council meeting in the Kerala state capital on Jan. 17. Also seen are (on the centre) Bishop Aprem Mooken, the Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East in India, and (on his left), Cardinal George Alencherry, president of the inter-church council that governs church-run educational institutions in the state. (Photo courtesy of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council press office)|
The southern Indian Kerala state chief minister and communist leader has lambasted some private schools for corrupt practices and warned that the church, which has worked extensively in education, not to fall prey to the commercial education lobby.
Pinarayi Vijayan spoke at the diamond jubilee of church-run Devagiri St. Joseph's College in Kozhikode district on Jan. 17. He lauded the Christian service in education but warned that it is fast becoming a for-profit enterprise.
His comments came following the suicide of a student studying at a privately-funded engineering college after he was accused of cheating. Other students claimed they were victims of economic exploitation and rights violations at the college.
The suicide prompted activists from student unions and the Left Democratic Front led coalition Kerala government not to go on the rampage and attack several colleges. College management had to appeal to the government for protection.
The chief minister traced the roots of the current trouble to the commercialization of education. "Education has become a profit-making mission after self-financing colleges were introduced. The church, which initially refused to commercialize education, has now become part of the trend. Most of the church-run colleges, except a few, have turned into commercial ventures," he said.
The state government will investigate any financial irregularities in such institutions, he said.
Self-financing colleges are paid for by student tuition fees and run without any government help. They were introduced in 2002 in Kerala to meet the increasing demand for education.
Kerala had 15 state-managed colleges in 2002. Now there are 156 colleges with 58,242 students. Christian churches, including Catholics, run 18 colleges that are governed by an inter-church council.
Cardinal George Alencherry, president of the council, said that it was not fair to generalize the issue of corruption and profit and said Christian institutions were being run in a transparent manner.
"Isolated incidents" of mismanagement "should not be used to cast aspersions on all," said the cardinal, head of the powerful Syro-Malabar Church in the state.
The church's spokesman, Jimmy Poochakkat, said that they will cooperate with any government investigation.
Council secretary, Father George Madakkaparampil said that sometimes colleges take Christian names to tap the popularity of Christian education. "The church cannot be blamed if there are irregularities in such colleges," he said.
However, P. Biju, a youth leader of the Communist Party of India, told ucanews.com that investigating self-financing colleges would not be easy because a powerful lobby will block the move.
He pointed out that the state's Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was directed by the government to probe corruption in some colleges, could not proceed because there was an absence of official complaints.
"The students, who faced grievances, are not ready to come out openly as they fear that the college management will target them," he said.
Christians have for long alleged that Kerala state's Communist-led government has adopted a "hostile attitude" toward their educational institutions.
The church-communist tussle began in 1957 when Kerala became the first state to democratically elect a communist government. A church-led "vimochana samaram" (liberation struggle) led to the government's dismissal in 1959.
The communists have since come to power several times, facing opposition from the politically influential church whenever it tried to introduce major new education schemes.
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