Under intense pressure from the VHP, the Catholic missionaries of Bastar have agreed that principals in their schools, normally referred to as “Father”, would now be addressed as “Pracharya”, or “Up-pracharya”, or “Sir”.
The missionaries have also agreed to put up photographs of “Maa Saraswati” and “great personalities who have worked for national interest” in their educational institutions.
A statement saying the missionaries agreed to the above was issued following a meeting between the VHP and the missionaries in Jagdalpur in Bastar on Sunday. It was signed jointly by Bastar district VHP president Suresh Yadav and the spokesperson of the Bastar Catholic Community, Abraham Kannampala.
The Catholics run 22 schools in the tribal district of Bastar, spread over an area bigger than Kerala.
As per the joint statement, “notice boards and assemblies of all Catholic educational institutions of Bastar” should specify that instead of “Father”, principals be addressed as Pracharya or Up-Pracharya or Sir.
The statement added, “The Catholic community expresses regret if any community, religion or society was hurt by our community.”
While the VHP has been targeting missionaries for long over issues in Bastar, and “Ghar Vapasi” programmes have been undertaken in interior villages to reconvert neo-Christians, the recent controversy began a few days ago when, during an address in Bastar, the Bishop of Jagdalpur church said a missionary school should be established with every church in the region.
The VHP immediately dispatched a letter to the Bastar Commissioner, with copies to Chief Minister Raman Singh and the Governor, saying “the address aimed to promote communalism and narrow-mindedness”. The letter also alleged instances when “Chirsitian missionaries put non-democratic pressure on Hindu society and administration on the pretext of education”.
The VHP demanded that “Father be immediately replaced by Pracharya or Guruji” and statues of “Maa Saraswati be installed”.
In Sunday’s statement, the missionaries clarified that “they have no intention” to follow the suggestion given by the Bishop.
Asserting that the statement “upholds the sentiments of Hindu students and community,” VHP leader Suresh Yadav justified the demand that principals not be called Father, saying they had been seeking it for long.
“We asked these missionaries what was the meaning of father? Father means pita. We have only one father, how can we address a teacher as father?
They said that their Bible says so, and that they consider God father. We asked them that Bible is a religious book, why do they bring it to educational institutions?” he said.
“In other English-medium schools, no one uses Father for teacher. Why only here? Addressing a teacher as father puts emotional pressure on students and their parents,” he added.
Yadav said there was no contradiction in calling Saraswati “Maa”, though. “Maa and behenji are words of respect. We address older women as mataji, younger women as behenji. Matayen aur behanen, we say before any address. But we never address an old man as pita.”
The spokesperson for the Bastar Catholic Community said they didn’t intend to hurt anyone. “We never pressure anyone to say Father. We also agreed to installing statues of Saraswati and noted personalities. We already have their photographs in our schools.”
About the Bishop’s address, Kannampala said he had given the example of Kerala where churches used to have educational institutes when that state had poor education. “There was no intention to hurt anyone’s feelings,” he said.