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Haryana school celebrated Eid. Now it must fire Muslim staff, build cowshed

SN Malik | Updated on: 2 August 2016, 1:52 IST

The Muslims of Haryana's Mewat district had reversed their decision to migrate to Pakistan at the insistence of Mahatma Gandhi. Even those who had reached the border returned to their homes when Gandhi, who was on a visit to the region, made an impassioned appeal to them.

The region never had any communal unrest after independence. It remained an island of peace even during the turbulent times after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

However, communalism has now begun to rear its ugly head in this region.

On 8 June 2014, just 12 days after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, a road accident turned into a communal flare-up. According to locals, it was the first incident of communal violence in the history of Mewat's Tauru area.

Two years after these riots, communal tensions have risen again. This time, the dispute started at Green Dale Public School, over the celebration of the Eid-ul-Fitr festival.

Local RSS functionaries allege that 'vulnerable young minds were filled with the values of the other religion without permission'.

Complaining that their 'sentiments were hurt', these leaders demanded strong action against the school authorities.

What got parents angry

On the evening of 6 July, school children told their parents about the Eid celebrations at school. Soon after, a group of parents assembled at the bazaar and some shops were closed in protest.

The Green Dale Public School administration argued it had organised Eid festivities to promote communal amity among students, and make them aware about the traditions of other religions. However, it developed cold feet as soon as the protests spread. The school remained closed on 8 July, to prevent any untoward incident. Still, an angry mob reached outside the closed gates of the school premises.

Dr RP Sharma, a senior district-level RSS functionary, was also part of this crowd. According to him, "I myself called school owner Bhuvneshwar Sharma and asked why the school was closed, if the administration was not guilty. I also wanted to know why he was not present on the scene."

Tauru SHO Jai Prakash Yadav and Tehsildar Poonam Babbar reached the spot as soon as things started to get out of hand. A meeting was called in a hurry at the police station, to arrive at a compromise between both sides.

Dr Sharma claims school owner Bhuvneshwar admitted during the meeting that the children were made to offer namaz. He even tendered a written apology to parents, if Dr Sharma is to be believed.

Conditions put before the school

But, tensions didn't cool down at that. Representatives of the parents imposed a fine of Rs 5.51 lakh on the school, and put forward some stringent conditions.

Some of these conditions included:

  • Replacing skirts with salwar-kameez in the school uniform for girls
  • Expulsion of Muslim staff from the school
  • A moratorium on a fee hike for the next two years.

The school administration has purportedly accepted the conditions, but the fine has still not been paid by Bhuvneshwar. The other side insists the fine money would be spent on the construction of a cowshed and two temples that are already being built in the locality.

No FIR in the case

The police has refrained from registering any report in this case. However, it is worth noting that the meetings to penalise the school administration took place in the police station.

"No law works in front of the crowd. What could the police do, if the locals had made up their mind to act against the school authorities?" asked head constable Yogesh.

But everybody seems to have missed the real question: did the school administration really break the law? Was the Quran or namaz really taught at the school, or has the school been punished merely for celebrating Eid? If all other festivals could be observed in the school, then why such a furore over Eid?

How 'secular' event turned communal

Catch spoke to several people directly associated with the dispute. These included the school principal Promila Sharma, school owner Bhuvneshwar, school teacher Bismillah Khan, a student present in the school assembly on the day of Eid, local police officials as well as parents and other local residents.

Their testimonies only clarified one thing - that cultural programmes were organised in the school on the occasion of Eid, prayers were held, children were taught about the festival and sweets were distributed in the end.

Bhuvneshwar tried to strike a conciliatory note by claiming that a resolution of the matter is at hand. "I don't want to invite a fresh controversy by making any statement in the media. However, the allegations that the students were asked to offer namaz are completely baseless," he said.

Promila, the school principal, has previously worked in the same capacity at the Salwan International Public School for a long time. She joined the Green Dale Public School this year in April.

According to her, "We celebrated Eid with the motive of raising awareness among the children for all religions. Some unscrupulous elements have given it a communal colour."

Teacher Bismillah was presented as the main villain in the story. Several media reports claimed she had come from Kerala to teach at this school, and had left Tauru for Delhi. However, this version turned out to be false.

In reality, Bismillah is the daughter of a bank employee in Tauru. She had joined the Green Dale School on 1 May 2016. She resigned after the controversy.

Bismillah alleged: "A capable principal with a secular mindset has been made a scapegoat. The principal was only trying to teach the students to live in harmony and respect all religions. Little did she know that teaching communal harmony at a school in such a backward region would prove so costly."

Bismillah recalled the principal's enthusiasm about celebrating Eid. "She made arrangements for preparing sweets in the school, helped the students in presenting a stage play and the famous Sufi qawwali 'Bhar de jholi meri ya Muhammad'. Promila even asked all the pupils to bring handkerchiefs on 6 July," Bismillah recalled.

"The morning assembly was held that day at around 9am, and students were informed about the significance of this festival. The famous hymn by Allama Iqbal, 'Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri, zindagi shamma ki surat ho khudaya meri' was played on the mobile phone and it was followed by the qawwali presentation by the students," she added.

According to Bismillah, "The festivities also included the staging of a play in which characters belonging to four religions were shown helping each other and embracing their Muslim friend on the occasion of Eid. After these presentations, the principal, teachers and children prayed with folded hands and the programme concluded with the distribution of sweets."

Bismillah said the principal should have realised that the celebration of Eid could be easily communalised considering the prevailing circumstances in the country.

We don't need no (secular) education

Meanwhile, SHO Jai Prakash Yadav said the local police had not received any complaint regarding the incident. Head constable Yogesh, however, was more forthright. "What is wrong if children were being taught about different religions and cultures? After all, Muslim students also learn about other religions in the same school," he argued.

Hashim Khan, who runs a private school in Tauru, added: "I have worked as a school teacher for a long time. The students were asked to chant Gayatri Mantra and Aum everyday during the morning assembly. I never felt it was an attack on anybody's faith."

Hashim pointed towards the same ' unscrupulous' elements that Promila mentioned. He said local leaders like Dr Sharma, Rajkumar Mittal, corporator Vinay Kumar Malik and Sunil Kumar Jindal were behind communalising this incident. All of them are associated with the BJP or the RSS at the local level.

Dr Sharma, on the other hand, refuted claims that students were not forced to offer namaz.

"I am a known face in the area. I visited the house of two parents after the incident and got this straight from the children. What they said comes in the category of namaz," he insisted.

According to Dr Sharma, penalising the school authorities had not completely assuaged the locals. "Most of the people here believe they don't need such secular schools, which fill vulnerable young minds with such type of values without our consent."

Maintaining that the school administration wanted to attract Muslim students through such antics, Dr Sharma vowed "not to let this matter die down and bring it to the notice of the Chief Minister and the state education minister".

Translated by Deepak Sharma, edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 2 August 2016, 1:52 IST