THREE DAYS after a teacher of Delhi Public School (DPS) Srinagar who had come to work in an abaya (a long, loose cloak worn by women) resigned, after the school management allegedly asked her to choose between the abaya and her job, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday called it a “serious issue” and said that J&K is “not France”.
Responding to Independent MLA Engineer Rashid’s question on the issue during Zero Hour in the Assembly, state Education Minister Naeem Akhtar said, “We live in a multi-religious, multi-cultural set-up. We have a secular fabric (and) no force on any such issue will be accepted. We are not France.”
The minister, who is also the spokesperson of the PDP-BJP government in the state, was referring to France’s ban on headscarves, turbans and other conspicuous religious symbols in public schools. The teacher, who taught Biology, resigned on Wednesday after school authorities told her that she cannot wear it “inside the school”, she told The Sunday Express on Saturday.
The incident had come to light on Friday when students of the premier school boycotted classes and exams and sought an apology from the school management. The students also demanded that the teacher be recalled. “I was not given any contract or explained any conditions when I joined,” said the 29-year-old teacher, who did not wish to be named.
“The principal was absent for two months. After she returned, she sent a message that I should not wear abaya. She categorically told me that Islamic dress is not allowed on the school premises.” “The (school) chairman later also told me that I should not wear it inside the school. When I refused, I was told that I have to leave the job.”
According to the students, when asked about the issue, the principal told them that the school is “following rules” in issuing the warning to the teacher and contended that the school law says “no female teacher can wear abaya inside the campus during working hours”.
Calling it a “serious issue”, Akhtar said the government would get to the truth of the matter. “It (DPS) is a private school. We will get to the truth of it (the issue of banning abaya in the school),” he said. “We believe the (school) management is sensitive to the issues here.”
While the government tried to firefight, the separatists said the ban on wearing of abaya in school is akin to “interference” in practice of religion. “Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state and to raise objections on wearing of an Islamic dress here could have serious consequences,” senior separatist leader and Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. “There is no moral justification for it. The school should offer an unconditional apology and ensure that such a mistake is not repeated.”
The Hurriyat leader added that the school should not ignore sensitivity of the issue. Mutahida Majlis Ulema (MMU), an amalgam of religious organisations headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said that such “un-Islamic and anti-Muslim measures would not be tolerated”. The school administration did not respond despite repeated attempts for a comment.