Two weeks after he filed a police complaint against a school for trying to “convert” students because they recited a poem by a Muslim poet, Sompal Rathore is pleased with how events unfolded.
“That poem is Islamic,” he told Newslaundry, “and Hindu children are singing it. So, we oppose it. It’s a way to attract Hindu children to Islam, to keep them away from Sanatan Dharma.”
The “Islamic poem” in question is Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua by Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal also wrote the patriotic song Saare Jahan Se Achcha. In December, a video went viral of students at a government school in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. They were reciting the poem during morning assembly.
Rathore, president of the Vishva Hindu Parishad in Faridpur, filed a complaint with the Faridpur police, who booked Nahid Siddiqui, the school’s principal, and Waziruddin, a shiksha mitra or teaching assistant.
Waziruddin was on December 24. He was granted bail on January 2 and released the following day. The school – the Composite Kamala Nehru Upper Primary School in Faridpur – suspended him too. Siddiqui was transferred.
“We repeatedly received complaints that children are being made to say Islamic prayers at a government school. But could do nothing because we did not have evidence,” Rathore said. “Then I came across the video. Hindu as well as Muslim children study here. Let Muslim children sing this prayer, why are you forcing Hindu children to do so?...If you want to teach Jai Shri Ram or Hanuman Chalisa to Hindu as well as Muslim children, we have no problem. But why is only this being taught?”
But this was part of the school’s syllabus.
“I don’t care what is in the syllabus,” Rathore said. “They had a long plan. It was clearly a matter of conversion. It was an attempt to brainwash the children. The children themselves told us they were being forced to do all this.”
‘Why are they making such a big issue?’: Principal
Composite Kamala Nehru Upper Primary School is located in the densely populated Para mohalla in Faridpur. Buried in narrow lanes, if you miss the school’s board, you’ll never find it.
The school has about 300 students spanning Classes 1 to 6. Most of them are Muslim, principal Siddiqui told Newslaundry. There are four teachers – two women and two men, of whom three are Muslim. During morning assembly, the children usually recite Itni Shakti Hame Dena Daata, she said, but Iqbal’s poem was recited on just one day.
And someone – she didn’t say who – took a video of it and posted it on social media. Thus, Rathore got his “evidence”.
After the FIR, Siddiqui received an order from the basic education officer transferring her to a school in Bhaijipura. She was reluctant to speak to Newslaundry, saying the entire issue had left her very upset. When this reporter said he had come to Bareilly from Delhi, she exclaimed, “What! Such a small matter reached Delhi? I have never even been to Delhi.”
Siddiqui said she hadn’t been at school during the Iqbal recitation.
“I had gone on leave. It was my daughter’s marriage and I had gone to Bareilly at the time,” she said. “All this happened behind my back. Waziruddin went behind my back.”
But Siddiqui also said Waziruddin is a “good person” who works hard and that he’s been “implicated unnecessarily”. She said “no one from the school” was behind the controversy and blamed her “superiors” – though she did not name anyone.
Was the Iqbal poem actually part of the syllabus?
“Yes, the poem is printed on the back of Urdu books,” said Siddiqui. “The children were reading this poem with interest. We also have many Muslim students. They asked and the teachers made the students sing this poem. I don’t know why they are making an issue out of it. If there is a problem with the poem, it should be removed from the book. But it’s taught in schools in Delhi. It’s sung in schools all over India. Why are they making such a big issue over this being done here?”
The school in Faridpur.
On her part, Siddiqui, who is handicapped, is retiring on March 31. “Due to my illness and problems, I have taken VRS two years before my retirement age,” she said.
Newslaundry telephoned Vinay Kumar, the basic education officer of Bareilly district, but he said he could not meet this reporter since he was in Lucknow for a day or two.
When asked why the video spiralled into such a controversy, since the poem is part of the curriculum, he said, “This poem is in the Urdu medium books. It is not the school prayer because a different prayer is prescribed.”
If it’s so controversial, why not remove the poem from textbooks? Kumar paused and said, “The prescribed prayer is different and this poem is different.” He then hung up.
‘We have been very scared’: Waziruddin’s son
Waziruddin, the former shiksha mitra, lives with his five sons. His three daughters are married and live elsewhere.
Newslaundry visited Waziruddin’s house on December 31, two days before Waziruddin got bail. Nobody was home except his son Armaan, who runs a photostat centre from the house. Armaan said he was very scared after what happened to his father.
“Nobody is at home. After this dispute, everyone left,” Armaan said. “We often asked our father to leave this job. He only gets Rs 10,000 a month.”
Armaan was also dejected with the media. “I do not walk to talk to anyone,” he said. “The media has left no stone unturned to attack us. I don’t want to talk to anyone until my father is released. A local newspaper reported that Waziruddin’s children are also involved in ‘anti-Hindu’ activities and that action should be taken against them too. Since then, we have been very scared.” Newslaundry could not locate the news report in question.
Armaan said his father had been at school when the police called. “They said they wanted to interrogate him and call him to the police station,” he said. “We thought he’d been called for an enquiry. But his phone was confiscated. After some time, the police called our home and said they were taking him and to meet him one last time.”
Before taking up this post, Waziruddin had run a school from his home. He also took private classes before joining the school. “He has been teaching since 2007. There was never any problem but now all this has happened,” said Armaan, visibly upset. “If they keep bothering us, we will sell our house and go away. Hindu organisations got my father arrested by putting unnecessary pressure on the police.”
‘The complaint was correct’: Police
But everyone here has an opinion on what happened. The school has a temple on its premises, with idols of Hanuman and Shani Maharaj. There are two gates leading to it – the school administration holds the key to the first, and one Acharya Sanjeev Kumar Mishra holds the key to the second.
Mishra said Waziruddin had claimed he was teaching the poem to students of Class 5. “But if it is taught as part of the syllabus, then why make children sing it in the open? It should be done in the classroom,” he said firmly. “The children say they were made to sing it daily from 2 to 2.30 pm.”
When this reporter pointed out that the poem is part of the syllabus, Mishra said, “It is in the textbooks for Classes 5 and 6 but all the children from Classes 1 to 8 were made to sing it.”
Newslaundry could not verify these claims, or Rathore’s claim that children were “forced” to recite the poem.
Meanwhile, the police say they did not “act under any pressure”.
Sompal Rathore from the VHP.
“Following the complaint of VHP leader Sompal Rathore, an FIR was lodged against shiksha mitra Waziruddin and principal Nahid Siddiqui,” said Daya Shankar, station house officer of Faridpur police station. “Waziruddin was sent to jail immediately and the discussion is on what to do with Siddiqui. The investigation is going on. The investigating officer has changed, hence the delay. After the investigation, we will see what action has to be taken against her.”
He continued: “The complaint was found to be correct, so the action was taken. We have not acted under any pressure. This poem is in Urdu books. It should have been taught only to children studying Urdu, not to everyone. Why are you teaching Urdu to children studying Sanskrit? That’s why the action has been taken.”
This report was in Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated to English by Utkarsh Mishra.
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