Sometimes I really wonder whether we are progressive thinkers.

Take the recent example of the district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. The Catholic missionaries were put under intense pressure by the Hindu right-wing organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), to implement a number of changes in the schools run by the Christian diocese. As per the demands of VHP, the missionaries were forced to agree that instead of the word “Father”, students will now on use the word “Pracharya”, or “Up-pracharya”, or “Sir” to address school principal.

Their demands do not end here. They insist on photographs of “Maa Saraswati” and “great personalities who have worked for national interest” to be put up in classrooms. They have also objected to the Santa Claus distributing chocolates amongst school children.

I strongly condemn imposition of such irrational demands that could potentially polarise people on religious lines. What is the problem in the term ‘Father’? If the religious order has conferred the title of “Father” by virtue of him being a priest, why should anyone else have an objection? Why interfere in a tradition, a practice that is being unquestionably globally followed for ages? If the religious community refers to the title as ‘Father’, why deny them the right?

“Addressing a teacher as father puts emotional pressure on students and their parents”, is the lame justification they give. I have myself studied in a convent school. And Father is what we called our principal. It never ever put any emotional pressure on us!

Back in the 19th century, the educational system that prevailed in India was not organised and did not cater to the needs of all sections of the society. One must not forget the contribution of Christian missionaries in spreading education throughout the country.

Secularism, in its true sense respects individuals’ choice of religion and religious practices. It does not believe in imposing or claiming superiority of one’s thoughts over the other.

We’d all remember the gruesome burning alive of Dr. Graham Staines and his 2 sons aged 10 and 6 years, by another Hindu right wing organisation, Bajrang Dal’s activist in Odhisha. The allegation that Staines had forcibly converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity, completely took away from Staines the years of service that he put in for tribal poor and lepers. The Staines’ murder will remain a collective blot on the conscience of India for a long time to come.

Having said this, I do not endorse insidious practices of conversion followed by any religion. My stand in this article is my condemnation of imposition of any religious ideology for personal or political agenda. This not only damages public sentiments but also creates unhealthy division in a society where harmony is the need of the hour.

Earlier this year, Dinanath Batra, a veteran of the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), came in the limelight for his campaign to ban American author Wendi Doniger’s book “The Hindus”.

HRD ministry has been in the news for wrong reasons and their governance in food habits of students is taking it too far, by IIT taking off non-vegetarian food from the menu in all the hostels. HRD Ministry’s latest salvo about replacing German language with Sanskrit as third language in over 500 Kendriya Vidyalayas also smacks of fundamentalist approach. A far-sighted approach would have been letting students choose between German and Sanskrit, rather than imposing and that too mid-semester, without any forethought on consequences and students’ challenges.

While on one hand we are making progress in science & technology, its ironical that some fundamentalist Hindu right wing organizations under the tutelage of BJP are raising their ugly heads to promote their regressive thinking.

What Bastar needs is a revival of traditional art and handicrafts, which can help them reach markets and gain back glory. It needs to be place of safer travel. Poverty and naxalism are bigger areas of concern. It is sad that the more relevant social issues on hand are neglected and importance is given to trivial issues like calling a school principal a ‘Father’.