As Dhulagarh burnt on 13th December, there was another incident at Tehata – an area not far away from Dhulagarh – that failed to make news just like most of the communal skirmishes in West Bengal this year.
On 16th December, the Teacher-in-charge of Tehatta High School in Howrah district of West Bengal wrote a letter to the Uluberia police station apprising them of a tense situation building up. The letter revealed that some students of 9th and 10th standard of the school aided by outsiders, who were influenced by some local Islamic fundamentalists, had entered the school campus and forcibly celebrated Nabi Diwas (Birthday of Prophet Mohammed) on 13th December without taking permission from the school authorities.
According to reports, those who entered the school premises forcibly, roughed up students and teachers, and also hoisted green Islamic flags atop the building. This forcible outside intervention in the functioning of the school led to school staff feeling insecure and communal tensions in the locality, thereby resulting in the school needing to be kept shut. This hampered the form fill-up of 10th standard students, who have to appear for board exams.
This report by Eenadu dated 20th December sheds more light on the incident. The report suggests that after staying closed for 7 days, the school was allowed to reopen only after the assurance that Nabi Diwas would be celebrated. A meeting took place between the administration, school authorities and representatives of Islamic groups. They agreed to a 15-min celebration of the religious event and removal of religious flags hoisted on the school building.
It appears that the protesters had argued that birthday of Prophet Mohammad should be celebrated on school premises because Saraswati Puja is celebrated. However, the school teachers explained that Saraswati Puja was celebrated because of age old tradition where goddess of learning has been worshiped in educational institutes. It was more of a cultural celebration than religious.
It should be noted that no other Hindu festival, not even Durga Puja that is celebrated widely in the state, are celebrated in government schools. However, the protesters were not convinced and they demanded that Nabi Diwas must be celebrated on the school premises. Rallies demanding the same were held in the area, declaring the teacher-in-charge of the school a “coward who ran to the police”:
The gravity of the situation can be realized after listening to the speech in the above video, reportedly from the same area. The leader is seen whipping up communal sentiments after claiming that no police force can stop them. In fact, he boasts that the OC of the police station called him up and asked him to forgive the teachers.
Not just that, the leader claims that even if Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came there, they will not relent in their demands as they are united for their prophet and for Allah. He further gives a veiled threat to the teacher-in-charge that he may escape the net (by going to the police) but will not escape the pond (he has to live among these people only).
And it appears that the leader addressing the crowd in the video was right; their demands were met as per the Eenadu report above, and Nabi Diwas was agreed upon to be celebrated on the campus.
Now this could open up a Pandora’s Box with Islamic groups all over the state, especially in the areas with considerable Muslim population, demanding such religious celebrations on government school campuses. Not just that, other religious groups may also demand similar provisions to celebrate their festivals on school premises. Or will it lead to Saraswati Puja being banned from government schools to preserve communal harmony?