Wednesday, April 5, 2017

About Christian schools in India and Christian or secular prayers/songs sung by school students

Last updated on 10th Mar 2019

Given below is a recent exchange I had with a former Sai university student of mine, a native of Andhra Pradesh, which he was OK with sharing publicly. I have cut out some sensitive parts.

Correspondent (slightly edited): I studied in a Christian missionary school and every day we had mandatory Carol singing in the morning. I am told that there are some Christian missionary schools where bangles, bindi  etc.. get banned.

Ravi wrote:
Sorry to know that you had Carol singing imposed on you while you were in school. I am against any such imposition of Christian traditions on non-Christians (or even Christians) OR imposition of Hindu traditions on non-Hindus (or even Hindus). I guess it would have been upto your parents to take objection. Perhaps they did not mind it.

BTW I make an exception in the case of out-and-out religious/faith schools like a Veda patashala or a Muslim madrasa, or SarvaDharma schools like Sathya Sai schools. In such cases the schools are special-purpose kind of schools (as compared to most schools in India) with the parents clearly knowing the spiritual/religious nature of the school.

In my case, I studied four years (7th to 10th) in a Christian school (mid-1974 to mid-1978), Cardinal Gracias High School, Bandra (E), Mumbai, It had a big church on school campus itself but DID NOT IMPOSE any Christian tradition on its non-Christian students (like me). Its motto was and still is, I believe, "Truth expels darkness" - which is a very acceptable one for all religions, I think, and for atheists as well. Our school prayer was a song from (or which also was in) the movie Guddi (1971), if I recall correctly - Humko Man ki shakti dena,

Here are the lyrics in Hindi (in italics) with my rough translation of it into English:

Hum ko man kee shakti denaa, man vijay karein = Give us mental strength, make our mind victorious
dusaron ki jay se pahale, khud ko jay karein = Before the victory of others, make us victorious

Bhedabhaav apane dil se saaf kar sakein = May (we) be able to clean our hearts of discrimination (between people like caste/religious identity discrimination)
doston se bhool ho to maaf kar sakein = If friends make mistakes, may we be able to forgive
joothh se bache rahein, sach kaa dam bharein = May we stay safe from untruth, may we breathe truth
dusaron kee jay se pahale, khud ko jay karein = Before the victory of others, make us victorious

Mushkile pade to hum pe itanaa karam kar = If difficulties fall upon us, please do this mercy
saath de to dharama kaa, chalein to dharama par = If we stay with Dharma (Ethical living), we (should) walk on path of dharma
khud pe hausalaa rahein, badee se naa darein = May we have confidence in ourselves, (and) not be afraid of (adversity/evil?)
dusaron kee jay se pahale, khud ko jay karein = Before the victory of others, make us victorious
--- end song lyrics ---

Perhaps it was the fact that the school was in Mumbai that there was oversight from citizens about these aspects of Christian religious traditions not being imposed on non-Christian students. Maybe in your school, in Andhra Pradesh, I presume, it was different.
Which were the years you were at the Christian school where you had to participate in Carol singing? Do you recall whether all sang or some chose to stay away and were allowed to do so by the school?

Correspondent wrote (slightly edited):
I studied in that place from 2nd standard to 10th standard (1992-93 to 2000). Every day, it was part of the assembly. I remember many of the lines of many of the  songs even till date

I  must add a caveat here. I had two principals during my stay. I was very small during the first one's tenure. The  bulk of my stay and my attachment has been to the second principal. He was a very good man. He even served some days in Anantapur district and he had high regard for Swami(Satya Sai)

In fact, one day when I was in Parthi during my higher secondary school, I bumped into him as they had all come for inter-school competitions in Anantapur and took some time off to have swami's darshan. I must also add another caveat here. I consider him as an exception today in my current world view (with respect to Christian pastors & evangelists in India).

Correspondent added:
We used to have one carol (I didn't even know that they were called carols back then) and Pledge (India is my country) and the morning drill. So, I don't know if I can use the word forced but I can say it was mandatory. [Ravi: changed word ‘forced’ in parenthesis - it was my edit - to mandatory without parenthesis in above quote of correspondent.] All of the three things were mandatory. I benefited from the school and though I was from a small town I could compete (later on in my life) with every one else coming from cities and big schools because I could attend that school. I only have regard for my school. My current world view is more against people who proselytize by following the constitution in letter but not in spirit. This has got very very less to do with my schooling. On the contrary, my schooling helped me to take a more balanced view of people who proselytize.

Given below is a comment on my Facebook post (Note),, associated with this post.

Uma Ragunathan wrote (slightly edited):
I studied in a Christian School in B'bay (Mumbai), started by German Nuns. In our school, none of the girls had bad experiences. There were students from all religions. We were not imposed with tough rules. Daily Prayers would include verses from every religion ( of course, in turns ). As i was a Bal Vikas Student, i would incorporate Shlokas. Teachers, though strict, were loving mothers to us in school. Many students from our school have reached great heights in life. To me, it has done only Good. I have fond memories of my school days. I'm proud that i'm an ex-student of St. Anthony's Girls High School (Chembur, Mumbai) :-)

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