In an attempt to “ignite the spirit of nationalism”, the Gujarat Primary Education department has issued directives to schools to organise “Bharat Mata Puja” from August 1, as part of the Azadi ka Amrut Mahotsav.
The directive has met with stiff opposition from the minority community, who termed it a “one-sided, unreasonable and unconstitutional” decision.
The directive to participate in the campaign launched by the (Akhil Bharatiya) Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh (ABRSM), an arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was issued by the Commissionerate of Schools and the office of the Primary Education Director on July 25 to education officers of all districts.
The letter from the Commissionerate of Schools, stated, “As part of the celebrations of Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav, schools must perform Bharat Mata Puja and organise elocution on the subject, from August 1, 2022. A petition for the same has been sent by the Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh… In order to lend support to the Mahasangh and to ignite the spirit of nationalism, schools must ensure that such events are organised for the students.”
According to the letter from the Joint Director of Primary education, on July 22, a meeting was held between the ABRSM, Gujarat education minister and officials of the state’s primary education department to “discuss the issue”.
The letter states, “It was decided in the meeting that the primary education department will join the event in the interest of nationalism… Therefore, schools must ensure that students enthusiastically participate in the events held from August 1 to pay obeisance to Bharat Mata as well as the elocution on the subject.”
Calling the directive “unconstitutional and unreasonable”, Jamiat-Ulama-Gujarat made a representation to the joint director of secondary education on July 28. In its representation, the Jamiat objected to the mandatory “idol worship of Bharat Mata”, while “enthusiastically” welcoming any other programme as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.
The memorandum states, “Your instructions to pray to the idol of Bharat Mata is against the tenets of Islam as followers of Islam or any faith that does not believe in idol worship cannot partake in such activities. Muslims indulging in idol worship will cease to be Muslims… the government has taken a decision based on the petition of one organisation, without taking into confidence the other sections of the society. Taking such a decision on the request of one outfit is unreasonable and unconstitutional.”
District Primary Education officers of various districts declined to comment, while an official of a tribal district, with schools having a sizeable number of students from the minority community, said, “It is not clear if the prayers have to be performed for one day or throughout the month… We have a big number of minority students in cluster schools, who will not participate in idol worship and we cannot force them to do so… We will leave it to the local schools to decide.”
Another official of a city-based school, which also has students from the minority community, said, “A few years ago, a similar circular was issued to observe Saraswati puja on Basant Panchami… It was just a one-day compulsory event but following objection from minority communities, the directive was watered down to make it voluntary… We are expecting a similar implementation this time, too. Moreover, because it is supposed to be done every day until Independence day…”
Gujarat Education Secretary Vinod Rao said he was away on a training and was unaware of the directive. SJ Haider, who holds the charge in Rao’s absence did not respond to calls or text messages.