The Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), an umbrella organisation of around 30 Islamic religious and educational bodies in Jammu & Kashmir, has called for the ban on bhajans and Surya Namaskars in schools, claiming that they are hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslim community. The demand followed PDP chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s mischievous claims a few days back that Muslim students were being forced to sing Hindu bhajans in Kashmiri schools.
The MMU, led by Jamia Masjid chief cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, expressed dissatisfaction against imposing activities in the name of “yoga and morning prayers” in educational institutions, claiming that Muslim students were forced to sing bhajans and, at times, Surya Namaskar.
The accusation is rather ironic given the fact that the bhajan in the line of fire is Mahatma Gandhi’s all-inclusive prayer ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’. Students were told to practice the bhajan for the Mahatma’s 153rd birth anniversary on 2 October.
Interestingly, in a bid to achieve reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims, Mahatma Gandhi had allegedly meddled with the original hymn sometimes referred to as ‘Ram Dhun’; he inserted the word ‘Allah’ to make it an all-inclusive prayer. While the original hymn read, ‘Raghupati Raghav Rajaram, Patit Pavan Sitaram, Sundar Vigrah Meghshyam, Ganga Tulsi Shaligram,’ Gandhi’s secular version read, ‘Ishwar Allah Tero Naam.’
Despite this, the Islamists, including those who portrayed themselves as mainstream and secular, have rejected the bhajan, calling it a threat to their ‘Muslim identity’. So, for these Kashmir-based Islamists, who invoke India’s Constitution and constitutionalism, and often swear by secularism, Kashmiriyat is a one-way street. Syncretism is good till Islamic identity remains supreme and untampered.
The incident, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Other incidents: From Jharkhand to Gujarat
In July this year, some members of the Muslim community in Jharkhand’s Garhwa got a school prayer being offered for years, changed. They declared that since 75 per cent of the population is from the Muslim community, the prayer should be ‘as per them’. Succumbing to the pressure, the school administration changed the prayer. Not just that, the students of some 100 primary schools in Karmatand, Narayanpur and Jamtara blocks in the Jamtara district of Jharkhand now get weekly offs on Fridays instead of Sundays.
Similarly, as the nation was immersed in the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, nine government teachers in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir were suspended for not hoisting the National Flag of India in their schools on 15 August. Worse, a Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) flag was hoisted in a government Urdu primary school in Nalanda, Bihar.
Let’s look at another example where there has been a strong effort to strengthen religious studies in madrasas while opposing every bit of religious element of the majority in the formal education system.
The education department of Gujarat had, on 17 March this year, issued a resolution that mandated the Bhagavad Gita for the students of Classes VI to XII from the academic year 2022-23. Almost instantly, a petition was filed by Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Gujarat and Jamiat Ulama Welfare Trust challenging the government’s resolution on grounds of it being contrary to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and sought the resolution be declared unconstitutional. Taking advantage of the obvious loopholes, senior advocate Mihir Joshi argued on the behalf of the petitioner that the resolution is contrary to Articles 25, 28 and 51A (f) of the Constitution.
He argued while Article 25 refers to “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”, Article 28 states that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds. Joshi further advocated, “The question is whether it should be just one religious book, to give primacy to the book of one religion for values and principles of Indian culture when it has to be composite. Indian culture is a vast array of what it comprises.”
Here comes another tale of irony. While the Islamic bodies demand ‘no one religion should be given supremacy considering India is a land of varied cultures,’ a controversy erupted in Maharashtra in 2015, when the government announced labelling madrasas that only educate students on Islam without offering other subjects such as maths and science as ‘non-schools.’
Al Jazeera went to the extent of publishing misleading headlines which said, “Indian state de-recognises madrasa education.”
Seeping into our state system
An article published in The Print in 2020 had expressed ‘displeasure’ over an RSS-backed coaching institute, claiming a 61 per cent success rate in the year’s civil services exams while minority institutes like Jamia and Zakat Foundation were facing heat over the rising number of Muslims cracking the Civil Services Examination. The article titled “RSS-backed IAS institute has been quietly grooming ‘nationalist’ civil servants since 1986”, sheepishly indicated how it was ‘unholy’ to train nationalist aspirants.
The article, however, did not tie in well with a contrary report published by the Hindustan Times in 2019 which claimed that the civil services coaching centre in Mumbai’s Haj House, which until then had limited success in pushing the Muslim youth toward civil services, got a boost after three of its alumni were recently selected by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). “Ever since the UPSC results were declared [on 5 April], we have been receiving inquiry calls from all across the country. I still get around 50 calls every day,” said a Haj Committee of India (HCI) official.
Not just coaching, there have been attempts to even command forceful space in the administrative space. According to an OpIndia report, the linguistic department of the Jharkhand government in a fresh notification has removed Bhojpuri and Magahi as regional languages for the Dhanbad and Bokaro districts of Jharkhand with Urdu featuring in the list. Interestingly, while Urdu found a place as a regional language in all the 24 districts of Jharkhand, Hindi has not been recognised as a regional language even in a single district of the state.
So, if the Islamic body can approve the change of prayers, replace Indic languages with Urdu in schools and even involve school children to participate in evangelical activities, why have they objected to ‘secular prayers?’ Only to oppose the ‘majoritarian state?’
In a Hindu-majority nation, the religious slogan Jai Shri Ram (victory to lord Ram) has been labelled a ‘terror slogan,’ the saffron that signifies sacrifice and light in Hinduism has been linked to terrorism, centuries-old temples have become Waqf properties, Hindi is no longer a regional language in parts of the country, carrying out processions or jatras in ‘some areas’ is seen as a provocation, displaying patriotism is seen as an act of majoritarian and even unfurling the National Flag is called ‘nautanki.’
Why the duality in systems, law and attitude is something we need to think about.
The author is a political commentator. She tweets @a_singh_b. Views expressed are personal.
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