At 9:10 am Friday, around 30 students stood in two crooked lines at the government primary school in Pilibhit district’s Ghayaspur area, raising slogans. “Desh ki Raksha kaun karega? Hum karenge (Who will protect the country? We will)”, they said, and “Kaise karenge? Tann se karenge, mann se karenge, dhan se karenge (We will do it with our mind, our and body and our wealth).”
The slogans ended 10 minutes later and several students, none in uniform, walked out of the school premises in Bisalpur block. Asked where they were headed, a Class 5 student, said, “We will come back the day our headmaster is allowed to return and teach us. No teacher can replace him and what is happening to him is wrong and unfair.”
On October 14, the Pilibhit district administration suspended school headmaster Furqan Ali (45) in the wake of a complaint by local VHP members that he made students recite a religious prayer at the morning assembly. They claimed the prayer is recited in madrasas.
But, earlier this week, an inquiry by Bisalpur’s Block Education Officer (BEO), Upendra Kumar, found that Ali had made students recite the poem ‘lab pe aati hai dua’, written in 1902 by the poet Muhammad Iqbal, who also wrote ‘Sare Jahan se Accha’.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Basic Education Minister Satish Chandra Dwivedi said he has sought a report from the Education Directorate and Ali’s suspension will be revoked soon.
“It was initially found that he was getting a different prayer recited, but later it was found that he was getting a poem by Iqbal recited which is about patriotism. The BSA and DM acted hastily. The suspension should not have been done without collecting all the facts,” said Dwivedi.
“We will also issue a general notice to all schools that only those prayers should be recited in the morning assembly which are prescribed by the education department.”
Deputy Director, Basic Education, Ashok Kumar said that they were investigating the matter. “The action was taken by the district administration. Now, we are probing the matter and will submit a report soon,” he said. VHP district chief Ambarish Mishra said he would not like to comment on the matter.
Leading the group of students protesting at the school is a Class 5 student. “When we read this poem in our Urdu book, we liked it and asked our headmaster permission to recite it. Both Hindu and Muslim students had asked him. He does not say no to us. And he allowed us to sing this poem on alternate days,” said the student. Another student in the group, of Class 4, said, “We used to recite ‘lab pe aati hai dua’ and ‘woh shakti humein do dayanidhi’. If he has been suspended for allowing us to recite the poem, then it is also the government’s fault for making it part of our syllabus. Does that mean this government should be suspended?”
The Class 5 student interrupted at this point. “Modiji has himself said that Hindus and Muslims are the same. If we can recite ‘woh shakti humein do dayanidhi’, then why can’t we recite ‘lab pe aati hai dua’?”
Asked if they know the meaning of Iqbal’s poem, the student said: “Woh ekta ke baare mein hai (It is about unity).” The others nodded in approval.
“The students are not happy about the suspension and attendance since they got to know has dipped. On Thursday, only five students showed up,” said Rehan Hussain Chisti, who replaced Ali after his suspension.
“…Until Ali was here, around 150 students would show up every day,” he said.
BEO Upendra Kumar said attendance had dipped because students were attached to Al. “We expect the attendance to improve in the coming days,” he said. According to parents of several students, their children have been sulking since they got to know of Ali’s suspension.
Krishna Devi (45), whose 13-year-old son is a Class 4 student said, “They did not tell students why he was suspended. My son really likes the headmaster and has almost stopped eating since he was removed,” she said.
Rajesh Kumar (38), a carpenter, whose sons are in Class 2 and Class 5 said: “All three children praise the headmaster all the time. They say he spends money from his own pocket for the school.”
The BEO said Ali regularly spent his own money on school infrastructure. “He bought a projector worth around Rs 65,000 and started a smart classroom. He regularly contributes from his salary to improve school infrastructure. If the department gives him Rs 5,000 for some work and if the work requires Rs 7,000, he adds the money from his own pocket,” he said.
Ali, who joined the school in 2011, when he claims 71 students were enrolled at the primary school, said, “I have built the school brick-by-brick. The school had no proper arrangements for students to sit when I joined. Now, there is a smart class. I spend regularly from my pocket because I love students…” Ali is one among seven siblings, whose mother died when he was in Class 4. His father sold vegetables.
“It was not easy for me to complete my education. We were not very well off when I was growing up,” said Ali.
Ali got his Basic Training Certificate (BTC) in 2009 and was first posted at the government primary school in Bisalpur block. He was posted to the primary school in Ghyaspur in 2011.