This Bengal school was ransacked. Reason: Minority students wanted to keep their skull caps on
West Bengal has seen a spate of communal incidents over more than a year now, and the situation seems to be only getting worse. Last week a school in East Midnapore district's Nandigram had to bear the brunt.
On 16 March, a few students, as well as outsiders, created a ruckus at Samsabad Dhanyakhola Bidyapeeth in Nandigram Block 1 even as the Xth board exams were on. Their demand: students have to be allowed to wear skull caps while taking their tests.
It all started with two students sporting skull caps walking into the examination hall during the Work Education exam, some villagers said.
The external examiner and the headmaster of the school, Pradip Maity, asked them to remove their caps for the duration of the exam. The students refused, saying removing the caps would be against the Sharia. They insisted they would take their exams with the caps on.
Maity reiterated that they need to take the caps off and left the spot, asking the examiner to proceed with the tests, according to some teachers of the school. He had to leave for an appointment with the block development officer (BDO).
Within half an hour Maity got a panic call from the assistant headmaster. The two students who were asked to take off their caps had called a few of their friends and acquaintances. Soon a number of motorbike-borne youth landed up at the school, shouting slogans alleging that Muslim students were not being allowed to write their exams. The mob barged into the school and smashed a window at the school toilet.
Once the headmaster got to know about the mob and the broken window, he asked the examiner to allow the students to keep their caps on and urged him to finish the exam off early, said a senior teacher who did not wish to be named.
A student of the sixth standard, who also did not wish to be named, said: “Along with the two students, some 12 other students wearing skull caps and Hijab entered the examination hall and took their tests.”
According to a few teachers, after the examination was over, the mob entered the school premises and demanded to know why the headmaster had asked the students to remove their skull caps. Since it was an insult to their religion, they insisted that the headmaster seek an apology from the students. Also, they said, that the toilet window could not be facing west, as that too was against the Sharia.
The mob also demanded that the headmaster allow Nabi Diwas celebrations alongside Saraswati Puja and that lunch hours on Friday should be extended by an hour so that students can offer Namaz.
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The local administration reacted promptly and took immediate action, quelling the protest from escalating. Within an hour the police were informed by locals and teachers. They reached the spot and pacified the mob. Due to the intervention, the mob dispersed and the police escorted the headmaster to his home.
A day after the incident, West Bengal's Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari convened a meeting with district officials, the police as well as the school authorities, said sources in the village. They decided that the accused would be dealt with sternly and action would also be taken against those who try to affect the school's decorum in the future. Education Minister Partha Chatterjee was also informed.
Adhikari represents Nandigram in the state Assembly. He hit the limelight during the 2006 Nandigram agitation. According to state government sources, he called the meeting after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asked him to handle the situation. The CM was understood to have been angry with the incident.
Headmaster Maity said he felt the incident could be a planned one. The students involved have tried to create a ruckus earlier as well. Some former teachers also said that they were troublemakers.
“I apologised to the students, in case I hurt their religious sentiments. I also urged them not to carry out such a protest inside the classroom again,” Maity said.
“I will narrate the incident to Partha Chatterjee after the Higher Secondary examinations and will urge him to take steps regarding such incidents,” he added.
On Wednesday, almost a week after the incident, three students turned up in skull caps and Hijab.
Nandigram 1 BDO Amartya Chakraborty declined to comment on the matter.
District Magistrate Roshni Kamal said: “Normalcy has returned in the area. The police have increased vigil to avoid any untoward incident.”
Edited by Jhinuk Sen