Indian Catholic News

A chewing gum catastrophe

Beating of students at a Catholic school in India leads to arson and makes it difficult to proclaim the Gospel.

 
Catholics look at a burned classroom at St. Joseph School in Chandel district of Manipur on April 26. A students’ organization is suspected to have orchestrated the attack on April 25 over disciplinary action taken against some students. (Photo supplied)
Tokyo: 

In the Mel Brooks comedy film Blazing Saddles, a gang of desperados in the American West are lined up to enlist for an attack on the peaceful town of Rock Ridge when suddenly the leader notices that one of them is chewing gum while in line. So, he takes out his gun and shoots the miscreant.

In the film, it is amusing. In reality, of course, it would be horrible. However, in Manipur, India, it seems that the reality gets horribly close.

A students’ organization in that state has been accused of burning down a Catholic school, destroying seven classrooms, a records room and offices after several students were suspended for what the school authorities considered misbehavior.

Certainly such a suspension does not justify arson. But it does raise a question: What lay behind the suspension that provoked young people to burn down their own school?

Ultimately, it appears, the answer is chewing gum.

A teacher at St. Joseph School in Manipur caught a boy chewing gum in class. Fortunately for the boy, the pedagogue apparently did not have a gun, and instead resorted to using a stick on the child, striking him twice. When a classmate protested the beating as being “too much,” the teacher continued the lesson by giving her eight blows.

Eventually, students were suspended for indiscipline over the affair when on the next day several of them posted complaints on social media and spoke out against the teacher. The girl who posted the first message was suspended for six months while another five were each suspended for one month.

The arson attack came after the school refused to rescind those suspensions.

According to a ucanews.com report, the priest who directs the Manipur Catholic Youth Organisation said the “barbaric act of vandalism on an educational institution was against the cause of humanity.”

There was no mention of the priest being disturbed that the barbaric act of beating children with a stick at a school presumably founded to teach Christian love and forgiveness to its 1,400 students might also be against the cause of humanity.

Instead, six students were punished for protesting about such violence, though one might reasonably assume that a Catholic school education would include inculcating the importance of speaking out against violence and injustice.

Neither was there any mention of the teacher being punished for indiscipline, though when an adult in authority uses a weapon against children in his or her care it is, to say the least, a case of undisciplined behavior. “Bullying” and “assault with a weapon” are words that come to mind. What that teacher did was, or should be, a criminal offense. In most of the world, including perhaps in India, it probably is.

The arson is not justified, and the perpetrators will rightly face the legal and social consequences of their crime. Even so, it is easy to see how adolescents might be intemperate in their own responses when their supposed models of temperate adult behavior are an educator who beats children for trivial infractions or none at all, a school administration that suspends students for speaking out against such violence, and a youth leader priest who fails to see or ignores the reality of that violence.

Whoever lit the matches apparently learned the basic lesson of intemperate violence at St. Joseph School. They just took the lesson further than the school intended or expected from its pedagogy.

The world is fully and embarrassingly aware of the problem of sexual abuse in Catholic Church-related institutions, but there are other forms of abuse besides the sexual. Perhaps the most common is the sort of physical abuse that led from a stick of chewing gum to the burning down of classrooms, offices and records at St. Joseph School.

Sadly, that school is probably not a unique aberration. How can we expect the world to listen as the Church proclaims the infinite value of each individual child of God, especially the poor and the weak, when its institutions are violent violators of the powerless? Abuse in its myriad forms has made proclamation of the Gospel by the Catholic Church an increasingly empty claim.

That school in India has shown the problem on a small, if locally catastrophic, scale as a mouthful of chewing gum led to a major crime. Now, the school has the opportunity to become an example of the steps toward healing.

It is time for the school to show another aspect of Catholicism, the one we exercise in repentance. Confession, rectification and amendment are the necessary steps. First, there must be humble admission of wrong, then repair of the damage caused and finally enactment of practical measures to prevent repetition.

That would be a valuable lesson for students, faculty and administrators. In the meantime, shame on St. Joseph School and its ilk for adding yet more stumbling blocks to the proclamation of the Gospel.

Father William Grimm is a New York-born priest active in Tokyo. He has also served in Cambodia and Hong Kong and is the publisher of ucanews.com.

Source: UCAN

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