A diktat for holding morning Saraswati prayers in all local municipal schools on the occasion of Basant Panchami has stoked fresh controversy, with Muslim parents and opposition Congress questioning the intention behind the move.
In a recent circular, the Ahmedabad Municipal School Board has directed its schools, even Urdu medium schools, to perform “Saraswati vandana” and puja in the morning assembly on Saturday and share information on how this day was celebrated in other states. The January 19 circular states: “Life is empty without education. In order to make students understand that with education, one can reach pinnacles of success… students will to take a pledge to attain knowledge and perform Saraswati vandana and pujan.” The Ahmedabad Municipal School Board this year too has planned to celebrate Basant Panchami on January 24 as “Saraswati Aradhana Parv”.
The Indian Express on December 15, 2014, had reported how municipal schools have been facing flak after orders of discontinuing the decades old practice of conducting separate prayers during morning and afternoon assembly sessions in Urdu and Gujarati medium schools and conduct a common prayer, instead. Recently, Urdu medium municipal schools were asked to follow prayers of Gujarati medium schools that include Saraswati vandana, sarva dharm prathna and a list of 30 other prayers.
“Why should the question be raised this year when this is practiced every year. Students should understand the importance of education and goddess Saraswati whom we pray as the goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning,” said AMC school board chairman Jagdish Bhavsar.
The change in prayers’ module has become a bone of contention among parents of Urdu school students, who had earlier submitted a representation to the Board authorities questioning the intention behind the move and have demanded the officials allowing the old practice in Urdu municipal schools. While the Gujarati medium schools follow Saraswati vandana along with sarva dharm prathna, the Urdu schools have been replacing it with a kalma.
The circular has raised the hackles of opposition Congress, which has dubbed the move as an attack on the fundamental rights of Muslims. All forms of idolatry is prohibited in Islam. “This circular is an attack on the freedom of not only Muslims, but also of other religions.
“Why (do) they want Muslim students to perform puja? It should not be made compulsory in Urdu schools,” said Haji Mirza Baig, Congress councillor from Sarkhej ward, adding, “Congress councillors will stage protest against such dictatorial approach of the AMC.”
In a bid to defuse the situation, Bhavsar asserted that there was no intention to hurt anybody’s religious sentiments. “Everybody prays and worships in his own way. If they are not comfortable with offering prayers to Saraswati, they can do ‘ibadat’ (worship) in their own way. The only aim of this circular is to make children aware of the importance of education,” he said.
With inputs from PTI