The Bishop Cotton Saga – The Untold Story of How and Why the Greedy Head of the CSI is Destroying Two of its Greatest Institutions

The 2nd June 2010 decision of the Karnataka High Court to uphold the transfer orders served on the principals of the two, century-old,  Church of South India (CSI)-run Bishop Cotton Schools in Bangalore (See ) should come as no great surprise.

Readers will recall that the  principals of both schools had gone public over gross interference by their respective school management committees in the matter of  new student admissions. They had also accused the committees of stripping them of their powers, of humiliating them in front of students, of interfering in routine decision making, etc  See  The two principals resigned only to, just as quickly, withdraw their resignations citing support from parents and alumni associations to do so. The Executive Committee of the CSI Karnataka Central Diocese, headed by Bishop Vasantha Kumar (pictured above with English Bishop Neil Alexander), responded by  issuing transfer orders to the two principals (and to some others as well to make it appear the transfers were not vindictive action against the two principals for going to the media with their woes).

The principals then took the legal route  to get their transfer orders rescinded. However, their appeal that the transfers were unprecedented in nature and constituted vindictive action, did not find find favour with the Karnataka High Court. The court ruled that just because the transfers were a first-of-their-kind action, that did not invalidate them. Clearly the court was only concerned with  the letter of the law (i.e the right provided to the CSI under its rules to effect such transfers). To be fair to the court,  it was somewhat handicapped  in considering whether the spirit behind the transfer provision had been violated. This due to the  well disguised action of the CSI executive committee which had transferred the two principals along with several others.

The immediate fallout  of the high court ruling is that Princess Franklyn (pictured), the principal of Bishop Cotton Girls School (estb 1911) will now stay in her new post as principal of  the relatively less prestigious  and less financially well endowed St. John’s School. But  the Bishop Cotton Boys School (estb: 1865) principal Col. John Ellis, widely regarded as an efficient administrator and a no-nonsense army man, has chosen to resign rather than proceed to take charge as principal of  the second-rung Cathedral School.

Cause of Crisis

So what precipitated this crisis in the first place? The BBC’s investigations reveal that the origin of the problem goes back to changes made to the 13-member School Management Committees of the two schools earlier this year. And those changes were themselves the result of the high drama that surrounded the election of  Bishop Vasantha Kumar as Moderator of the CSI in January 2010. See “Poll to CSI top post a thriller”

The Bishop, say informed church insiders, liberally  used both money and muscle power to win the election for the Moderator’s post. They say as many as 11 bishops (who control roughly 15 votes each in the Synod) were approached with lakhs of rupees in cash; 9 are said to have accepted and distributed part of the spoils to their fellow synod members while two refused. But with victory virtually purchased came an  unexpected problem for Bishop Vasantha Kumar. On 12th January 2010, two days before the crucial church polls, a civil judge in Nelamangala, just outside Bangalore, passed an order  restraining him from participating in the two-day Synod meeting. Reason: the court noted there were “serious allegations made against the defendants regarding misuse of Tsunami Relief Funds etc.” 

Bishop Vasantha Kumar had served as Deputy Moderator of the CSI between 2004 and 2008, a period during which the Tsunami funds were misused. He is reportedly close to the prime accused in the Tsunami funds scandal, the former general secretary of the CSI Synod Pauline Satyamurthy, who is accused of siphoning off a whopping Rs seven crore from foreign funds received to alleviate the misery of those who were hit by the disaster. Some sources put the figure swindled by even higher at Rs 18 crore. Pauline Satyamurthy  has  an arrest warrant out against her and has been on the run from the law ever since, though her daughter was arrested in the case late last year. See The BBC also has in its possession a copy of the letter dated Nov 9, 2007 from  the President of the US based aid agency Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) announcing suspension of the ERD’s programme partnership with the CSI. This as the CSI Synod had been “unable to provide the information and documentation” necessary for global auditing firm Grant Thornton to complete an audit of the ERD’s Tsunami-related funding. 

Election Drama

Getting back to the CSI synod election, Bishop Vasantha Kumar and his busload of supporters had, as per the Nelamangala court order, to cool their heels outside the meeting hall Kalaivanar Arangam at Courtallam, Tamil Nadu, on the first day of the two-day Synod meeting.   But Vasantha Kumar is not a man easily beaten. For him at age 63 this was his last chance to become Moderator of the CSI (he had lost the biennial election for Moderator in  2008) as CSI Bishops have to retire at 65 as per the church constitution.  And this time he was prepared to do whatever it took to get himself  elected. In sheer desperation the  Bishop turned to a senior Christian judicial officer to call in a past favour done (see box below: The Case of the Curious Marriage).

On the afternoon of the second day of the CSI Synod, Bishop Vasantha Kumar triumphantly entered the meeting hall telling  the Moderator J.W.Gladstone, who was in charge of proceedings, that he had obtained a stay from the Karnataka High Court on the Nelamangala court order. Even without being shown the High Court order, Gladstone allowed Vasantha Kumar to contest for the Mcderator’s post which,  not surprisingly, he won.  

Sources say the court order itself was not signed by the judge involved until much later in the day after the CSI election was over. Even more curious was the timing of Court hearing. As Bangalore Mirror reported on 28th January 2010:     “The High Court of Karnataka held a session on January 14 — an official holiday (Makara Sankranti) — to hear a writ petition by Bishop Vasantha Kumar and stayed the order of the Nelamangala court. Justice K Bhakthavatsala heard the petition and passed the order. Now, more than the election, the High Court’s functioning on a holiday is raising eyebrows.” A legal challenge was mounted questioning the validity of Vasanthakumar’s election but he, using church funds,  hired no less a legal eagle than Nalini Chidambaram ( the wife of home minister P. Chidambaram) to fight the case in the Madras High Court which she duly won.

The Case of The Curious Marriage

On 15th December 2008, the daughter of now mired-in-controversy Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran got married in grand style at St. Marks Cathedral, Bangalore. According to church records Ms D. Amudhaporkodi (Dinakaran’s daughter) married Mr Vignesh Mahadevan, son of one Mr P.N. Mahadevan from Mylapore, Chennai. Curiously the baans certificate No 325 issued by St. Marks Cathedral ( a copy of which is with the BBC) shows the bride as being from St. Marks Cathedral but against the groom’s name the church to which he belongs is left blank. Sources say baans cannot be read if the bride or the groom are of a different faith, unless a conversion happens first. Even in the case of a civil marriage involving  people of different faiths, a blessing can be held in the church, but no baans is permitted. Yet the certificate signed by the presybter-in-charge of St. Marks Cathedral shows baans having been read on 30/11/2008, 7/12/2008 and again on 14/12/2008. Sources say such an unprecedented action would not have happened but for the direct intervention of the bishop himself.

Impact of Vasantha Kumar’s Victory on Bishop Cotton Schools

Following the election of their man to the CSI’s highest post, it was time for  Vasantha Kumar’s biggest supporters, many goons among them, to now claim their share of the spoils. Sometime in February they, with the Bishop’s help, wormed their way into  the recast School Management Committees of the two Bishop Cotton schools. Admissions in both schools are highly sought after and it is not uncommon for seats to be unofficially sold for over a lakh of rupees each. 

But some of the new Management Committee members were reportedly not prepared to wait even for the new admission season to start. They had already, with the help of junior school staff, begun diverting school fees collected from parents into their own pockets. When Col. Ellis of the Boys School (pictured) issued a memo to the offending staff, the Bishop instead of supporting the principal asked him to withdraw the memo and  threatened he would convene the Executive Committee of the Diocese to suspend him for harassing staff if he did not withdraw the memo within a specified date. This was one of the immediate triggers for push coming to shove and the principals deciding to go public with their complaints. 

The new school management committees also did away with another time-honoured practice. It has been the tradition for principals of both schools to shortlist the students for new admissions on the basis of various criteria including if their parents were CSI members, whether they had siblings studying in the same school, whether there were important letters of recommendation backing particular applicants, etc. In normal course most of the names the  principal recommended was accepted, except for a small discretionary  quota which was controlled by the management committee. This year the principals were bluntly told their recommendations were not required and they were to submit only the details of all applicants (including the crucial phone numbers) and it would be the management committees of the two schools that would select all new students. When they resisted this, various threats  were issued and their functioning was made impossible.   And then it was not long before  news of seats being sold by management committee members started hitting the papers. See

The implications of having greedy mercenaries on their boards who sell seats to the highest bidder are horrendous for the two schools. These are institutions of great repute (a 2009 all-India survey conducted by Cfore & EducationWorld magazine ranked Bishop Cotton Boys as the second best school in South India) and hold the future of some 8,000 children in their hands in any given year. Not only will the recent changes  lower the quality of students who enter these schools, but the rot will inevitably  spread to other areas like teachers being appointed for kickbacks paid rather than merit.  Soon everybody who is anybody in the schools will be on the take for just about everything. And that would virtually mean curtains for these two great institutions which between them have nearly  250 years of history and count among their alumni famous names like Nandan

Disclaimer: The BBC takes no pleasure in or credit for this piece. In fact given its own CSI roots, the BBC is pained to do an exposé of this nature on the crisis in the church. Contrary to what you the reader may think, we do not strategise, plan or script any of the articles you have read in this series. They just flow both naturally and mysteriously. All we say to that  is “Lord, let thy will be done.”


The BBC encourages CSI members to meet in small groups to discuss the concerns raised in this and previous articles and evaluate what could be done to correct the fast deteriorating situation within the CSI. If you would like to be part of such a group, email us your name, parish, city  and phone number. We will then match this information with others with a similar profile and interest from your parish/city  and put you’ll in touch with each other. As James 2: 26 reminds us: “ For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith  without actions is also dead.”


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John T said...

Crooks who adorn the dress of bishops have to be subjected to criminal prosecution and it is time for a mass uprising of the members of CSI to take the whip like how Jesus did and drive out all the swindlers who have turned the church into a ‘den of thieves’.

Cricelda Ninan said...

The Bishop is dirty now. He should not be there as bishop anymore. why is it happening like this. where are the values gone. Or is this Bishops gone like some greedy politicians. Does Vasantha kumar believe in God? I dont think so. He would be in hell..not in heaven.. he will not be in common mans point of view. God knows..

Jessica said...

all power in wrong hands. sad to read this.

Unknown said...

This kind of looting Institutional funds/donations is the custom of Tirunelveli Diocese. When Rt.Rev.Vasanthkumar came to Courtalam ,the present administrators of Tirunelveli diocese supported him with a last minute change of group (originally they were supporting Madurai Bishop)I think Bishop Vasanthakumar learned the process of looting institutional funds from these Tirunelveli diocese present administrators

Unknown said...

Its time for the REAL CHRISTIANS to act and not be just watchers. It is a shame that we have let our bishop & moderator for whome we pray every sunday indulge in such activities right in front of our eyes. If we all join hands then this Bishop of ours will be running for cover.

Anonymous said...


It is so sad to know all these in our times. What is the solution ?. How can we members of the church curb it ?. Any suggestions?.

I have a possible solution.

Let us The problem not started at Diocesean level but the truth is at Church level - Pastorate Committee. So the problem should be addressed at the level of Pastorate committee elections. Right now 100% of the pastorate members are greedy and corrupt. The congregation should vote people with true character, honesty and integrity. That means the family members should be made aware of all these frauds taking place in the church. Who is going to make aware ?. I think the best people are those who are educated and access to internet.

This should start from the member of each family particularly educated youths, teenagers and certainly not the Adults because they are already corrupted and cannot be changed.

1. Collect the emails of all the educated youths from each church.
2. Send the website www,
3. Request them to read and tell all the members of the family which includes father, monther, brother, sister, grandpas and grandmas.
4. Let the youth always ask the family members to give suggestions to curb these.
5. Then the youth can suggest them to vote the honest and true character people for the pastorate.
6. The youths should come forward to take the leadership and stand for the elections of pastorate. By this we can get honest pastorate committee members.
7. These members should elect honest and efficient Area council office bearers.
8. Each pastorate committee should send 2-3 members from their pastorate to Diocesan council.
9. In the diocesan council these members should elect honest and sincere Office bearers for the Executive Committee and other standing comittees.

10 By doing all these we can ensure honest diocese and though the Bishop is corrupt he cannot wage his tail.

Right now what is being done:
The Church congregation knowingly or unknowingly electing the dishonest, corrupt and uneducated people as pastorate committee members. These members always look at how to get Power by becoming member of a committee and make money. So,the Bishop to keep his chair firm and power with him always induce these members by making them committee member. So it is win win situation for both of these members.
This is exactly happened in KCD and am sure in other diocese as well.

The same thing is happening in our Govt. and the same was copied by our pastors.

What a shame ?.

Cotton Boy said...

One should realize that , the wrong doing is how and till what extent going to benefit him. Spoiling the future of thousands of students, good name of the institution, the faith in the system ...everything goes on stake. In the lure of money, bribe they destroy every thing.
The chain will go on ....Today they ask for a few lacks for a student. tomorrow that student/man will ask for millions from the society. Parents will defend him saying we spent lacks on his/her education. so what he is doing is "ok" whom will you blaim...Stundent , parents of the system?..ultimatly its a human's nature to follow the suite..looks for the self benefit....But there should be a ethic line marked for that and within that ...its a positive and healthy competition.

The kind of crooks(CSI top post VK) must be stopped. or else we will join the countries like somaliya, afgan , turki, pak etc very soon . these are the most corrupt countries. It does not mean that we are in good shape at his moment but ..before crossing the gate..Control!

Voice of the parents will definitely be heard if its loud and clear. Only this election (bought)should not be the reason to hide the dirt.
Root out the culprit and seek for the good administrator from the core school group.

rajeshmatsel said...

even I was asked for about 2.5 Lakhs for a seat and i wanted to go legally though a christian protestant i couldnt get through just because i didnot want to pay illegally. now i am suffering with out a seat for my son :(

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