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CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- Several bishops in Kerala held a day-long hunger strike Tuesday to protest the state government’s withholding of funds from Catholic schools.

The hunger strike was held Oct. 20 in front of the Kerala state secretariat. The prelates participating were Bishops Joshuah Kizhakkeveettil of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of Mavelikara, chair of the Kerala bishops’ education commission; Paul Mullassery of Quilon, the vice chair; and Thomas Tharayil, an auxiliary of the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Changanacherry.

Archbishop Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum said the state government “curtails our rights as a religious minority to run education institutions through arbitrary orders and amendments to the existing laws,” UCA News reported.

Christians run about 5,000 of Kerala’s 13,000 schools. The government is required to provide financial aid to over half of these schools to support teachers’ salaries.

Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said that in the last five years, over 3,000 teachers in Catholic schools have not been paid because the government has not distributed its promised aid. Since May 2016, the Kerala government has been led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The archbishop said it was an “act of cruelty” to deny these employees’ salaries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said the hunger strike is not seeking to solicit “special favors from the state. It is to ensure our constitutional rights.”

Father Charles Leon, secretary of the Kerala bishops’ education commission, told UCA News that “it is an indefinite protest.” Protests were held in each of Kerala’s 14 districts.

He also said the state government tried “to meddle in the appointment of teachers in the state-aided schools.”

Minority schools have the right to appoint their own teachers, but the state government has stalled in approving the appointments in the last five years.