Days before this private school in Allahabad hit the national headlines last week, after its owner-manager, Zia-ul Haq, reportedly barred students from singing the national anthem, the education department had served notice for closure. The reason: M A Convent School had been operating since 1995 without being recognised.
“Your school is being run in the city area but has not been recognised. In such circumstances, you are being asked to immediately stop the school activities within the next 15 days, or present a copy of the recognition, if you have one,” said the notice, dated July 27, signed by the block education officer.
“It is part of our routine exercise to identify unrecognised schools and serve them notices. This one was served on July 27. He had 15 days, but following the controversy over the national anthem, we speeded up the process and sealed all the documents, which will be part of the probe now,” said Basic Shiksha Adhikari Jai Karan Yadav.
The school in Sadiyabad area has been closed, and Haq, 55, is in jail on charges of violating the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971. The principal, Ritu Tripathi, and some other teachers had resigned on August 5, alleging that Haq had barred students from singing the national anthem during Independence Day celebrations.
But Haq’s wife, Raisa Siddiqui, 42, is not so sure. “He may have objected to Saraswati Puja, but I doubt that the national anthem was not sung in the past,” she said. “We are looking for CDs of the previous years’ Independence Day programmes. I am sure the national anthem was sung earlier.”
Another branch of the M A Convent School, which operated from their house in a congested lane of Mehndauri Bagh, has also been closed. “It’s hard to say what goes on in my husband’s mind. He did not share anything with us, school was his first priority and his dream,” said Raisa. Asked what would she do now, she replied, “I don’t know, he did not like me or our daughters to go out, so I hardly know much… He was upset for the last few days… I got to know about the incident from the newspapers.”
Earlier this week, Haq had told The Indian Express that he had banned the national anthem as parents of students had objected. “It cannot be allowed as it is un-Islamic. I run a school and have to abide by the parents,” he had said.
Taking a different line, Fauzia Bano, whose two daughters used to study at the school, said: “We have no problem with the national anthem… It was probably in his mind… But the school was good, our children were getting English-medium education for just Rs 250-400 per month.”
She has shifted her daughters to a new school. “At this new school, my daughter came back home reciting Gayatri Mantra but we are not going to pull her out of the school. The statements of Haq and the teachers have disturbed the atmosphere,” she said.
Another parent, Mehnuma, claimed her daughter and other children said the national anthem was sung in school earlier. “They told me that they used to sing Sare Jahan Se Acchha daily and the national anthem was sung on special days,” she said.
“Our house is right in front of the school. We never heard about this row in the past. Haq was a simple man… difficult to say why he or that teacher made such statements,” said Ayaz Alam, whose children also studied at M A Convent, which had classes till Class VIII.
Some residents said the teachers had some salary-related issues with Haq. But Tripathi, who joined the school as principal in February last year, differed. “I was not working for money, but to get experience,” she said.
Stating that her grandfather, Bhagwati Prasad Shukla, was a freedom fighter, she said: “Coming from a freedom fighter’s family, I could not accept that the national anthem or national song were not allowed. I tried to convince him but he was adamant.”
Asked why she had not raised the issue in the past, she said there were fewer “Hindu teachers” then. “This year, when I objected, he told me that I could leave if I did not like it. So I decided to leave,” said Tripathi.
Interestingly, Haq had introduced Sanskrit classes along with Urdu this year. “But he did not allow recitation of shlokas, despite the fact that there were many Hindu students,” said Tripathi.
When contacted, Chief Development Officer Andra Vamsi, who was officiating DM during the controversy, said: “A probe has been ordered to look into allegation that the national anthem was not sung there and to investigate authenticity of video recordings of his statements.”