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Communalism

Gujarat: In Kutch, Schools Become Latest Target of Hindutva-Endorsed Harassment

Several schools had to apologise after children were asked to participate in Eid celebrations. A social activist from Kutch said that these protests were an attempt to create communal chaos in the area. 

New Delhi/Kutch: On June 30, a video of students from a private school located in Kutch’s Mundra town went viral. In the video, the students were seen performing a skit while wearing skull caps to depict the celebration of the Islamic festival Eid-al-Adha.

In the viral video, Pearl School students could also be seen performing namaz with some covering their heads with handkerchiefs. Female students stood in prayer. 

It caused was outrage among some locals, who alleged that Islam was ‘imposed’ on Hindu students and that the video ‘hurt’ Hindu sentiments.

Subsequently, principal Priti Vaswani was suspended.

District primary education officer (DPRO) Sanjay Parmar told The Wire that after he watched the video, he had asked for the suspension of the school principal and launched a probe into the matter. “These things are unacceptable and we have verbally informed schools that such activities should be avoided. We also got the school to suspend the principal,” he said.

Hate and harassment

While no Hindu parents have approached the school or the DPRO, local Muslims say there is a sense of fear and a tense atmosphere in the town since June 30.

A Muslim parent wishing anonymity said that schools are spaces where all festivals are celebrated equally. “Then why not Eid? If all festivals are celebrated, why are Islamic festivals discouraged?” he asked.

Nazim Abbasi, one of the school’s trustees told The Wire, “We celebrate all festivals of all faiths here, it’s just a way to keep students aware about cultures and traditions. But once we were informed that we had to suspend the principal, we acted upon it. There was no backlash from the parents of students who study here.”

Abbasi also shared how the video of the students performing namaz was uploaded by the school administration on their Facebook page – like a routine activity, just as they frequently upload photos and videos from events like Yoga Day, Earth Day, Holi, etc.

On the school’s Facebook page, there is now a video apology from Vaswani, the now suspended principal, and the skit has been deleted.

Though the issue was taken over by the DPRO, BJP legislator Aniruddh Dave called the activity ‘unwanted’ and said that while swimming, horse riding, or music could be a part of extracurriculars, namaz or even its depiction in a skit cannot.

Dave has urged the district education officer (DEO) to take appropriate action in the matter. He also mentioned that the school had a holiday on the day of the incident, yet the students were called and asked to offer namaz while dressed as Muslims.

A social activist from Kutch, Mohammedbhai Lakha added that these protests were an attempt to create communal chaos in the area. “Right wing groups are trying to communalise the peaceful atmosphere in our region – Anjar, Jarpara, Varshamedi have been seeing incidents that are meant to either irritate Muslims or instigate Hindus to detest Muslims” he said. Lakha also told The Wire that Muslim students participate in Hindu festivals at school with equal zeal, “Then what is the problem with Hindu children dressing up for Eid skit for a few minutes?” he asked.

Schools under scanner

Just like Pearl School, several other schools have come under the radar of radical Hindutva groups, which are attempting to stir up local sentiments against peaceful celebrations of Eid in schools.

In North Gujarat’s Mehsana, Kids Kingdom School on Radhanpur Road drew protests from locals, parents, and Hindu organisations for making Hindu children participate in Bakra Eid celebrations.

In Kutch’s Anjar town, Aksharam International School was also forced to suspend its principal after protests from parents against the Eid celebration held on the school’s premises. Parents of Hindu students have reportedly expressed ‘anger’ towards the school administration for asking children to make lanterns and wall-hangings for Eid.

The district development officer of Kutch, S.K. Prajapati said that the DEO  received a complaint from some parents alleging that the school made 20 students draw ‘Islamic symbols’. Like the Pearl School incident, an inquiry has been initiated after the complaint was filed and the principal was suspended. 

Eid festivities at Aksharam International School in Kutch. Photo: Special arrangement

According to locals, the parents alleged that the school administration urged parents to dress their children in ‘Islamic clothes’. The parents claimed that they were also given instructions that the students should wear Pathani suits and salwar-kameez. A right-wing group protested at the school on Monday, July 3 after learning about the incident. 

Aksharam International School has however clarified that they had not made it mandatory for  the students  to wear green clothes, but many students turned up  in green. The school has nonetheless suspended the principal and issued an apology, vowing that no such ‘activity’ would be conducted for Eid.

On July 3, 6oo km from Kutch, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) protested at a school in Songadh’s Kukda Dungri village in Tapi district. The VHP’s ire was aimed at pastor Panchyabhai Gamit reading a message from the Bible at the school’s Guru Purnima event. 

VHP’s Tapi district unit condemned the incident, alleging religious conversion of the students. VHP President Rakesh Gamit, mahant Rudra Pramodgiri Bapu, and other leaders visited the school on July 7 to discuss the incident with principal Nilesh Gamit and the staff. 

The principal acknowledged the ‘mistake’, and VHP leaders submitted a memorandum to the collector’s office in Vyara, demanding an investigation.