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As headscarf controversy grips MP school, CM told not to communalise education

Counterview Desk 
An open appeal to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh to stop communalization of education, allowing the Ganga Jamuna HS School, Damoh, to function, has said that the  school came under controversy because of their uniform which included a headscarf for adolescent girls. 
Complaints by a religious group alleging the school forced Hindu girls to wear a Hijab led to an inquiry by the collector, the appeal said, regretting, while the local administration gave the school a clean chit, it is the attack by fundamentalist sources and biased reporting in the media that has embroiled the school’s image and led to the suspension of the school’s recognition with an FIR against the school management.
The appeal, floated by eight civil rights leaders* even as seeking wider online support, said, independent media and fact-finding by civil society activists have shown that this minority recognized institution was providing quality education to about 900 Muslim and 300 non-Muslim children, and complaints of religious conversion do not stand true in any way.
The appeal said, there is an alarming trend of education spaces being attacked by local Hindutva groups, and the school becoming a playground for communal politics in this election year in Madhya Pradesh, asking the CM to endorse to restore the functioning of Ganga Jamuna HS School.

Text: 

We, the undersigned, are deeply disturbed by the suspension orders of the recognition of Ganga Jamuna H.S. School in Damoh by the Department of School Education, M.P. The schools’ recognition has been suspended primarily on grounds of infrastructure inadequacy on record, but this is far from the truth. The classrooms, three floor building and all available facilities are much better than many other schools of our state, and the suspension has come in light of allegations around religious conversion. We believe that the rumours surrounding the school are unfounded and do not reflect the true nature of this educational institution. Moreover, the sudden suspension of the school, days before the start of the academic year, has left over 1200 innocent children in limbo. We call upon the state to safeguard the interests of children, and teachers and not play in the hands of fundamentalism and religious fervour.
The school is well-placed and respected in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious community. In 2022-2023, the school achieved 98.5% pass in Class 10 results, significantly higher than the MP state average of 63.29%.
Quality and low-cost education: Ganga Jamuna HS School has been a beacon of quality education. The school management's philanthropic efforts have supported families in distress, offered fee waivers, and ensured that education is accessible to all, regardless of their financial situation. The teachers are very well qualified. They make extra efforts so that all learn. Children have shared that they did not need coaching in any class or any subject. It was a happy moment to share their Class 10 results where a congratulations poster with 20 students included four girls of a non-Muslim identity sporting a head-scarf that brought the school in the limelight. In spite of an immediate enquiry headed by the Collector that gave the school a clean chit, a religious frenzy took over social media. Biased reporting from certain sections of society resulted in senior government functionaries commenting against the school in public forums.
Ganga-Jamuna Tehzeeb – values of co-existence and secularism: Ganga Jamuna H.S. School has been fostering secular values and promoting an inclusive environment for over 12 years. The school has demonstrated respect for all cultural differences and provided equal opportunities for all students, regardless of their religious backgrounds. For the purpose of not hurting anyone’s sentiment, it was a standing policy that no-one should get any non-vegetarian, not even eggs to school.
Perception bias on any aspect associated with Muslim identity: Continuous media trials have continued to haunt the school management, teachers, children and families of all locally. As an English medium school, Urdu has been offered as a third language, yet the presence of Urdu books in a school space has been seen in a negative light. Urdu is one of the languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of our Indian Constitution, yet there has been an uproar on this. ‘Lab par Aati hai Dua’, a poem composed by Mohammad Iqbal (he has also penned Saare Jahan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara), is part of the government textbooks of MP and in other states of India. It is about patriotism and humanity, but singing this in an annual function has been considered anti-national.
A mosque in the vicinity of the school was shown as a place for pushing children to perform namaz, while the fact is that the school has three temples and a mosque in its immediate vicinity, but not a single school-going child of any religious affinity, was expected to follow any religious practice. A map of India with physical features of the Himalayan Mountains and the rivers flowing southward has been wrongly construed as a map that was cutting off North India. Allegations of forced conversion on teachers are malafide and have impacted teachers and their families drastically. The three staff members under question had married into a Muslim family much before they joined the school, or even before the school was opened.
Independent media and fact-finding teams by civil society members have also been presenting their objective views. The school is well sought-after by parents of all religious groups. Furthermore, the school has been recognized as a minority educational institution by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (MHRD, GOI) in pursuance of Article 30 of our Constitution, which grants the school the authority to make decisions concerning certain aspects of its functioning.

Our demands:

  • Immediately revoke the suspension of derecognition and allow Ganga Jamuna H.S. School to resume classes.
  • Provide adequate time for the school management to address any infrastructure-related concerns as needed.
  • Uphold the values of secularism, brotherhood, and fraternity enshrined in our Constitution and protect the space for minority educational institutions.
  • Control distortion of facts by various invested groups through stern measures, and safeguard children’s education.
Why his matters: The closure of Ganga Jamuna HS School has put the dreams and aspirations of over a thousand children at risk. With the closure of the school, both parents and students are struggling as they cannot find affordable schools in the neighbourhood, nor schools whose quality of teaching matches up to that offered at Ganga Jamuna H. S. School. Moreover, these students have cherished their education in this inclusive and nurturing environment, and taking that away from them is a grave injustice. Parents and children, Hindu or Muslim, have not been happy with this move.
By revoking the suspension orders, you can ensure that these young minds continue to receive quality education. We call upon you to stand up for values of secularism, fraternity, justice and equality emphasized in our Constitution.
---
*Asha Mishra, Social Activist, Bhopal; Saba Khan, Shiksha Adhikar Manch, Bhopal;  Shivani Taneja, Educationist, Bhopal; Maheen Mirza, Film-maker, Bhopal; Natasha Maru, Researcher, Kutch;  Neena Sharma, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Bhopal;  Nipun Prabhakar, Journalist and Architect, Bhopal; Zaya Rehman, Guardian and Social Worker, Damoh

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