India: Students At Orphanage Forced To Pay Idol Worship Fee
By Mahruaii Sailo
Hindu extremists in West Bengal, India who earlier this year refused to admit Christian orphans to a high school have forced them to contribute funds for idol worship in order to gain admission, sources said.
The conflict in Kharagpur, Paschim Medinipur, last month led the hard-line Hindus to throw stones at a Christian orphanage, shut it and other social programs down and threaten to arrest the head of the organization that operates them. The Rev. Dr. Subimal Dutta, director general of Ambassadors Service Society, which operates the Gilgal Children’s Home, told Compass he faced the threats and program shut-down after opposing the collection of money for idol worship at government schools or government-aided schools.
Dutta said that since 2007 he has tried to stop school officials from collecting money from the Gilgal Children’s Home and from non-Hindu students at public schools for the “Puja subscription,” or idol worship fee.
Hindu extremists led by Achinty Hatui, headmaster of the Dudhebudhe Gram Sava Tribal Institute, forced the Christian students to pay the fee for idols and warned him that they would ransack the properties of the Society, which also runs child development, children and mother survival, pregnant women and infant care, health care and primary school programs.
“I went to various administrative officials to stop this unfair practice, but I got no positive responses,” Dutta said, adding that when he reported the matter to area Additional District Inspector Jasodananda Misra, he refused to take action.
No area schools would admit the five orphans from the Gilgal Children’s Home, so they attended Dudhebudhe Gram Sava Tribal Institute, a high school that is a three-minute walk from their home, hoping that they would eventually be granted admission. After attending classes for 21 days, however, Hatui expelled them on March 25 in a fit of coarse language and insults, said Chetan Larence Orasad, manager of Ambassadors Service Society.
“Achinty Hatui and his team have been collecting money for idol worship through unfair means and pressured orphans from the Gilgal Home to submit the money or they would be expelled,” Orasad told Compass.
The orphans also faced discrimination and harassment from the headmaster and staff for not contributing to the idol fund, he said. The orphans filed a police complaint against Hatui, which the local police initially refused to register.
Dutta said he pressured the additional district inspector, Misra, to take action, and he arranged a meeting for him with Hatui and his team on April 19, which was fruitless.
“In response to the public litigation case I submitted in Kolkata High Court at the beginning of the year, the honorable court on April 8 issued an order to Dudhebudhe Gram Sava Tribal Institute and other government-aided schools in the area to give admission to the children from Gilgal Children’s Home,” Dutta told Compass.
Even after the court order, however, Hatui initially refused to admit the students in his school, Dutta said.
“The orphans were given admission only after I went to the police station and reported the matter,” he said.
But the orphans faced constant discrimination and harassment from Hatui and his staff, and they continued to pressure them to submit the money for idol worship, he said.
After receiving a letter from the West Bengal Minorities Commission to appear on Sept. 7 for a hearing following a complaint filed by Dutta, Hatui and his staff tried to force the orphans to sign an agreement stating that the orphans had willingly paid the idol worship fee. The orphans refused to sign, and they have stopped going to the school because of the constant harassment they faced from the faculty, he said.
Hatui and his staff also insisted that the orphans change their legal guardian from Dutta to relatives in order to attain status as regular students, he said.
On Sept. 7, Hindu extremists led by Hatui gathered at the Society compound, stoned Gilgal Children’s Home, blocked the road and demanded that all Christian activities stop. As a result, Dutta was unable to appear at a hearing of the West Bengal Minorities Commission.
“A big mob of Hindu extremists blocked the passage and the compound of the mission, and the police also asked me not to venture out from my home as it could be harmful for my life,” he said. “I sent my representative along with my letter to the chairman of the commission stating the reason for my absence.”
Later that day, police summoned Dutta, Hatui and his secretary for talks, but Hatui insisted that they meet at his high school compound, where Hindu extremist groups could gather. Dutta declined to meet at Hatui’s school that day.
On Sept. 8, Hatui and other Hindu extremists forced their way into the Gilgal Children’s Home and demanded the arrest of Dutta within 24 hours – on charges of forcibly converting orphans and trying to bring Christianity to the area – or else they would demolish the orphanage.
“I have also come to know through well-wishers that Hatui bribed some people to attack us,” Dutta reported.
On Sept. 9, the extremists again stormed into the Society compound and warned Dutta to stop all Christian activities within seven days or that they would forcibly shut down the mission. They also sternly warned Dutta that his life would be in danger if he involved police or any administrative officials.
“We dare not bring forward the matter to the police or to any officials for fear of the extremists, and we have closed down all our activities since Sept. 9,” he said.
At a meeting with the village head, the local political party and the Ambassadors Service Society on Sept. 23, an agreement was reached for re-opening the Society, but it required all students at the government high school to pay the idol worship fee without complaint. As a result, the five students from the orphanage have paid the fee but have not attended due to harassment from Hatui and his staff, sources said.
The agreement allows the Society to resume limited Christian social programs and also calls for teaching about Christ to be restricted to the Society compound. In addition, the Society must provide jobs to six local Hindus, and committee members of the Society’s primary school must be nominated by the local political party. Because the Society primary school has more students than the public school, it can operate only when the government school is not in session, according to the agreement. The Society’s primary school has some 300 students, including Muslim and Christians.
Dutta said he felt he had to consent to these demands in order to continue providing shelter to 72 orphans.
“The extremists will go to any extent to close down the orphanage and all the other mission works of Ambassadors Service Society,” he said.