Last week, media and social media was with reports on the Christian principal of a school in Pune being thrashed for purportedly forcing students to recite Christian prayers. Alexander Coates Reed, principal of DY Patil High School in Talegaon, was of installing CCTVs in the girls’ toilet.
On July 4, Reed was assaulted by members of the Bajrang Dal, among others, and some parents. The crowd shouted “Har Har Mahadev” and tore his shirt. Soon after, a police complaint was filed against him by a parent at the Talegaon MIDC police station.
But days later, the Pimpri-Chinchwad police, which has jurisdiction over the area, said it had found no evidence of students being forced to “recite Christian prayers”. The police also said the CCTVs were not installed inside the toilets but in the common areas near the wash basins in both the girls’ and boys’ washrooms.
Now, the complainant in the matter – the parent of a Class 8 student – told Newslaundry the religious allegations are “rubbish”. Instead, she said she was upset about the CCTVs, her daughter once receiving a “punishment”, and the staff being “rude” to her when she complained about it.
Why then did she include these “religious” allegations in her complaint? She did not have a clear explanation.
Here’s what we found.
Upset about ‘punishment’, ‘rudeness’
The parent had filed her complaint at Talegaon MIDC police station. Newslaundry has a copy of her complaint.
The complaint said: “Biblical prayers are recited in school, Hindu festivals are not celebrated and students are repeatedly said to not follow the act as per Hindu traditions. If any parent talks about this issue, their wards are harassed...but the most condemnable act is the installation of CCTV cameras in ladies’ washroom.”
This is primarily why the video of the assault went viral on social media.
Newslaundry then telephoned the complainant to ask her what had happened.
She emphasised that she was “upset” about her daughter being punished by teachers, and the principal “supporting” the teachers. She alleged that in June, her daughter and other students were asked by a teacher to “rearrange some benches” as a punishment.
“Just because her hair was not tied properly with a white ribbon, she was made to arrange benches as if there were no peons in the school,” the parent said. When the parent complained about it, “the principal and teachers were rude”.
“I called up the teacher and school coordinator to complain about the issue but they were very rude. This was not only about my child. School staff indulged in harassing other students as well,” she alleged. “Students were made to sit in the corridor. Teachers scolded them and pulled their ears. They targeted them individually. Teachers were doing this and the principal was supporting them.”
She was also annoyed for another reason – Coates had “installed CCTV cameras in the girls’ bathroom”, she said.
The school did install CCTVs in the common areas in the male and female washrooms. While this is problematic in its own way, it took place over one and a half months ago, students were informed about it in advance, and there are no cameras inside the bathroom stalls.
At this point, the parent had no issues about “religious” concerns at the school. She planned to go to the school on July 4 with other parents to complain.
But how did the Bajrang Dal get involved?
Enter the Bajrang Dal
Nitin Mahajan, coordinator of the Bajrang Dal in western Maharashtra, told Newslaundry that the parent had approached his group on July 1 with a “complaint”, and then asked them to accompany her to the school on July 4.
Mahajan said: “DY Patil High School is operated by a Christian principal, Alexander. There are also 2-4 Christian teachers and one Muslim teacher. The parent said during free time, teachers would tell students how Hindus are different from Christians. Morning prayers were from the Bible. We don’t have a problem with that, in fact they should do prayers of all religions. But then they started telling students to go to church. They gave more marks to students who went to church.”
None of these allegations could be proved.
Mahajan said the parent told him that students who didn’t comply were “targeted” and “subject to punishments”.
“The complainant said her daughter received such treatment. We did a recce and found a Muslim teacher was brainwashing students to say Muslim invaders are better than Hindus...We went to the school with the complainant to discuss these matters and learned that authorities had installed CCTV cameras,” said Mahajan.
He concluded: “While talking to Alexander, the complainant slapped him. The moment he tried to talk nastily, our Bajrangis gave him the mahaprasad. Unfortunately the police is more interested in filing a case against our boys instead of Alexander.”
The parent did not tell Newslaundry she approached the Bajrang Dal. Instead, she said she had merely gone to the school on July 4 and was “waiting when the principal arrived in his car”. Six or seven other parents were with her, she claimed.
“I confronted him, opened the door of his car, and asked him to step out,” the parent said. “But suddenly he pushed me in reaction and I slapped him.”
She did not explain how the Bajrang Dal was present.
But is DY Patil school actually pushing Christianity on its students?
The parent herself said these allegations are “totally rubbish”.
“Whatever people are saying – that the attack was because of Christianity – is totally rubbish,” said the complainant. “I myself studied in a convent school. The news that he was attacked because of religious reasons is not correct. I believe in equality of all religions. No religious conversations happened in that school. He was assaulted because of the rude behaviour of school authorities, including him and the staff, and for installing CCTV in the washroom.”
But then why did she list religious reasons in her police complaint? Why did she contact the Bajrang Dal and bring them along with her?
The parent did not give a clear answer. She also denied approaching the Bajrang Dal.
“I consider all religions equal,” she said. “But the principal didn’t give holiday to children on Ekadashi and instead gave the holiday a day later as he and other staff wanted to go to Lonavala to party. I have heard that once a girl was told by a teacher that if Jinnah would have become the prime minister of the country instead, then the country would have been better. Once they gave an activity to the students to visit all religious places except temples. The people who assaulted were not Bajrang Dal members and were parents and relatives of students.”
So, did she complain about Coates due to these reasons – Jinnah, Ekadasi, not visiting temples – or because of her daughter being punished?
“It is because of his rude behaviour and CCTVs,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ranjeet Sawant, the police inspector at Talegaon MIDC police station, told Newslaundry: “The complaint submitted mentioned religious issues including reciting Christian prayers, discouraging Hindu traditions, etc. We have not found any such thing happening in the school in our investigation so far.”
What about the CCTVs?
“The complaint mentioned CCTVs in the washrooms. We checked. The cameras are not inside the toilets. They are in the common areas where the wash basins are installed in both the girls’ and boys’ washrooms,” said Sawant. “School authorities said they had discovered that wash basins, mirrors and electrical switches were tampered with in the past. In order to stop those activities, they installed CCTV cameras near the wash basin.”
He added, “As of now, neither the principal nor any school staff has approached us with a complaint. If they approach us, we will file an FIR and take necessary action against the assaulters.”
Newslaundry spoke to a teacher at DY Patil High School to ask about these issues.
“The entire thing is fake. It’s fake news,” said the teacher, on condition of anonymity. “I am a Hindu myself. I have never encountered any kind of forceful recitation of Christian prayers. The CCTVs were installed in the common areas to curb fighting and bullying among students. Even the principal and teachers use these toilets. Children of teachers study here – do you think they would stay mum if the cameras were installed for shady purposes or had visibility access to the toilets?”
On the attack on Coates, the teacher said, “What happened to him was very unfortunate. They could have approached the police if they had a complaint, but they assaulted him first.”