JUST over a year after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) issued a circular mandating Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) in all municipal schools, civic schoolteachers, especially in Urdu-medium schools, are fearing a backlash from parents if they mandate the singing of Vande Mataram.
On Thursday, an elected body of corporators in Mumbai had passed a proposal to make singing of the national song compulsory across nearly 1,100 BMC schools. Last year, the BMC had okayed a proposal, mandating all BMC schoolchildren to perform the Surya Namaskar. Though a circular was issued, teachers and corporators said it was never enforced. “Vande Mataram means ‘worship the motherland’, whereas worshipping anything except Allah is forbidden in Islam. Why are they (BMC) forcing us to do so,” said Zarina Shaikh, principal of a BMC Urdu-medium school in Sion.
The viewpoint of Muslim corporators and BMC teachers is that Islam forbids the apotheosis of any person, deity, animate or inanimate, except Allah.
“This is exactly why many Muslims had opposed making Surya Namaskar compulsory in schools. We cannot bow before the Sun. Why is the BJP government and the BMC administration keen on making it mandatory?” she asked.
Iqbal Ali, a senior teacher in a BMC Urdu-medium school in Kurla, said parents have begun approaching them about the singing of Vande Mataram. “All we tell them is that we have not received any orders. Just like non-Muslims are not forced to adopt things not allowed in their religion, asking Muslims to do something, which is forbidden in their religion, is unfair. We respect our motherland, we make our students sing the national anthem every day. Then what difference does it make if we do not sing the national song?” he asked. According to Ali, even if the school implements this rule, it will be difficult for principals and teachers to convince the parents.
When the BMC general body passed the proposal, Muslim corporators from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) had opposed the move, but the proposal was cleared without a debate, as the SP corporators had staged a walkout. The proposal has now been sent to Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta.
SP leader Raees Shaikh said the verses of Vande Mataram are “in direct conflict” with the beliefs of Islam. “I respect the national song, but making it mandatory is unconstitutional and unfair,” he added. He also stressed on the way the proposal was passed in the House. “It is against the rule, we had demanded that voting be conducted on the matter, which was not considered and the proposal was passed. It won’t stand legally,” he said.
Sandeep Patel, a BJP corporator from P South ward, had moved a notice of motion, demanding that singing of the national song, at least twice a week, should be made compulsory in BMC schools. He also demanded that the national song be sung before all BMC committee meetings.
Congress corporator Sufiyan Vanu said the issue had been brought up three times in the past and was opposed by the then Municipal Commissioner, Subodh Kumar. “The same issue was discussed in 1997, 2004 and 2011. The last time the issue was passed by the general body, in September 2011, the commissioner had rejected the idea as, legally, it cannot be implemented. Still, the issue has been taken up for discussion again,” he said.
Vanu added that the municipal secretary should never have permitted the topic for listing in the day’s business. Another Congress corporator, Asif Zakaria, pointed out that the elected representatives should focus on other civic issues. “We have been elected to work for the betterment of the city and help provide better civic amenities, instead of focussing on such ideas. Besides, the desire to sing Vande Mataram should come from within and no one should be forced to sing along,” he added. Meanwhile, Urdu school teachers are planning to write to the municipal commissioner and the state education minister.