Conversion fees: Karnataka government orders school closure, then withdraws order

A closure order has been issued to St. Paul’s Upper Primary School in Ilkal near Hungund in the Bagalkot district

Education ministry officials closed St. Paul’s Upper Primary School in Ilkal, near Hungund, in the Bagalkot district, on charges of “trying to convert students and their parents.”

Hungund’s Block Education Officer (BEO) issued an order on December 26 following a complaint from some right-wing organizations and an inspection by an official.

But, the government of Karnataka has not yet enacted a law against conversion by force or fraud. Karnataka’s Protection of Right to Religious Freedom Bill 2021 was adopted by the Assembly during the winter session in Belagavi, but the government failed to present the bill to the Legislative Council . The legislation is better known as the Anti-Conversion Bill.

In Bagalkot district, authorities withdrew the order after news of the school’s closure was released to the media on December 31. The school effectively remained closed for four days, with the order issued on December 26, which was a public holiday.

Shreeshail Biradar, deputy director of public education, Bagalkot, confirmed that the order had been withdrawn by the BEO. “The school reopened on December 31,” he said.

In its order, the BEO had declared that the school was closed indefinitely to “celebrate Christmas in violation of the rules”. However, he did not cite the rules in the ordinance. “You served meat in the classrooms during the Christmas celebrations on December 25th. This embarrassed the public and the department. You must keep the school closed until further notice. Legal action will be taken if you reopen the school without permission, ” he said.

Previously, Pradeep Amarannanavar, head of “pro-Hindu organizations” had filed a complaint with tahsildar K. Rathna, alleging that the school was trying to convert students and parents. “The school administration invited students and parents to school on Christmas Day and offered them lunch with meat, wine and ‘Satya Veda’, a Kannada translation of the Bible. ‘is nothing but an attempt to convert Hindus to Christianity through seduction and force,’ ‘he claimed.

Principal Silvia D Marck and members of the school’s management committee Jackson D Marck and Umesh Nayak Harapanahalli were among those named in the complaint. “Since the inception of the school, these people have converted members of poor and backward communities like Banjara, Ambiger and other groups. They insult the Hindu gods and convert vulnerable groups. Once converted, they force the converts to throw down statues. and images of Hindu gods from their homes. This is against the law. In addition, the school’s license is renewed every year, as the school management bribes some officials from the Ministry of Education. The authorities should close the school and cancel its license, ” according to the complaint.

Upon receipt of the complaint, the Education Department’s Block Resource Center Coordinator, IM Angadi, inspected the school and submitted a report. The BEO followed up on the report and issued the closing order.

Jackson D Marc told reporters in Ilkal on December 29 that the allegations were without merit.

“We don’t convert anyone. First of all, the school is not run by Christian missionaries. It is run by residents of Ilkal. The school committee includes members of all faiths. pupils of all religions. Lunch (mentioned in the complaint) did not take place in the school. The school is run in rented premises, “he said.

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