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Damoh School Row: Hindu Parents Say 'Dress Code Doesn't Matter, Education Does'

"I never saw anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab," said a student of Ganga Jamna School.

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This article is part of our ongoing coverage from Madhya Pradesh's Damoh, where the shutting down of English-medium Ganga Jamna School, following a hijab row, has put the future of more than 1,000 children in jeopardy. As we continue to bring you ground reports from Damoh, we need your help.

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"I have never seen anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab, or any Hindu student being scolded over a tilak (a coloured spot worn on forehead) or a kalawa (sacred thread)," said Tarun, a Class 10 student of the currently de-recognised Ganga Jamna School in Madhya Pradesh's Damoh

Tarun has studied in Ganga Jamna from nursery, and lives merely a kilometre from the school, which recently courted controversy for putting up a poster congratulating students who topped the Class 10 board exams. Allegedly, all the girl students in the poster, including Hindu students, were 'forced' to wear the hijab.

"I never saw anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab," said a student of Ganga Jamna School.

Tarun said he never witnessed any incident wherein Hindu girls were scolded or forced to wear the hijab in Damoh's Ganga Jamna School.

(Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)

When asked whether he saw any of his classmates or other students being forced to wear a headscarf or asked not to wear the kalawa or tilak, he said:

"I have never seen any teacher scolding any student for not wearing a headscarf. It was a part of the dress code, some girls wore it, some didn't. No one bothered. Even the boys weren't scolded for wearing a kalawa or tilak. You see, I am wearing a kalawa, and till last month, I was going to school."
Tarun Ahirwar
"I never saw anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab," said a student of Ganga Jamna School.

The Ganga Jamna School is currently shut down after its accreditation was suspended following a hijab row, in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh.

(Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)

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Damoh Hijab Controversy Till Now

Things took a turn for the worse after the poster, which carried pictures of 18 students, went viral with the claims that Hindu students are being forced to wear the hijab in Ganga Jamna School. 

On Monday, 29 May, the district collector ordered an inquiry and tasked the district education officer and the local police station incharge to investigate the claims. 

The officials, after probing the claims and talking to the parents and school administration, submitted their report. Based on that, the district administration gave a clean chit to the school, saying, "The allegations weren't proved in the investigation."

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"I never saw anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab," said a student of Ganga Jamna School.

The school was given a clean chit in the initial investigation by the district administration. However, as Hindutva groups mounted pressure on the admin, another probe was ordered following which the school's accreditation was suspended. 

(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)

But the issue did not end there. It escalated with Damoh's right-wing groups, including Hindu Jagaran Manch, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and others, staging protests against the school situated around 250 kilometres from the state capital, Bhopal. 

In the subsequent days, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Home Minister Narottam Mishra commented on the controversy, and the allegations against the school gained more traction.

On 11 June, the principal of the school, a teacher, and the school's peon were arrested by the Damoh Police after a complaint by three students, alleging that the school forced them to wear the hijab and that their religious sentiments were hurt.  

Speaking to The Quint, Anunoday Shrivastav, advocating for the school, said that Ganga Jamna is an accredited minority-run educational institution that was set up with the aim to provide quality education to students, especially those coming from marginalised communities.

"The school was inspected in 2021 and the accreditation was further extended for the period of 2022-25. What happened within a few months that the accreditation was suspended and the future of over 1,000 students was put in danger?"
Anunoday Shrivastav

The school currently stands de-recognised. Meanwhile, several parents who are worried about their children's future tell The Quint the controversy was uncalled for.

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What Hindu Parents Have To Say

Speaking to The Quint, 70-year-old Ram Prakash Sahu, who runs a flour mill and is the guardian of one of the girl students whose photo was published in the controversial poster, said that they have never heard any complaints from their child over being 'forced' to wear the headscarf. 

"Our daughter never complained of any pressure from the school regarding the headscarf. It was a part of their dress code and there's nothing wrong with it. We knew what was the dress code, and still we admitted our child because these things really don't matter. What matters is the quality of education, which was very good in Ganga Jamna."
Ram Prakash Sahu

Pulling this reporter close, Sahu, in hushed tones, said that some "Hindutva groups created a ruckus after the poster was put up, but in reality, there was no opposition from the parents whose kids were studying in the school."

"I never saw anyone in my class being forced to wear the hijab," said a student of Ganga Jamna School.

The poster put up by the Ganga Jamna School congratulating the toppers of Class 10 board exams went viral with claims of Hindu students being forced to wear the hijab. 

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

As we ventured further into the congested roads of the area that remain occupied by domesticated animals, we met Asha Chauhan, a homemaker whose house shares walls with the School.

Asha told The Quint that she has been a witness to how the school has improved the education of students in the area and that she has not heard of any incident of kids being forced into anything at Ganga Jamna School.

"Three children from my family were studying in Ganga Jamna School. My house borders the school building. If I get on top of the house, I see their assembly area, their classrooms. In all these years, I haven't seen any incident of the school forcing anyone to wear a headscarf."
Asha Chauhan
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Asha, although hesitant to speak on camera fearing repercussions from the local right-wing members, told The Quint that Ganga Jamna School wasn't a place where students were harassed.

"They conducted so many programmes; in one of the programmes, children from my family were dressed as Krishna and Radha and they performed in the school. The cultural programmes were inclusive of all religions. I can say that we would have been the first to hear about religious conversions or instances of forcing Hindu girls to wear the hijab because we live right next to the school where we send our own kids."
Asha Chauhan
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'Does Wearing a Headscarf Makes Someone a Muslim?'

Some of the parents even visited the Damoh collectorate, demanding that the school be reopened or arrangements be made for the admission of their kids to other English medium schools.

One of the parents Meena Naaz, who was part of the group of parents that had assembled at the collectorate, said:

"It was a school that was enabling the lower middle-class families to empower their kids with education and was paving the way for our children to build a better future for themselves. But all of this is in jeopardy now."
  • 01/02

    "It was a school that was enabling the lower middle-class families to empower their kids with education and was paving the way for our children to build a better future for themselves," said Meena Naaz. 

    (Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)

  • 02/02

    Students and their parents had assembled at Damoh collectorate on Tuesday, 20 June, demanding that the school be reopened.

    (Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)

Speaking to The Quint, Naaz wondered if simply wearing a headscarf could make someone a Muslim.

"Can wearing a scarf make someone a Muslim? We too studied in Hindu schools, sang Veena Vadini Varde, and went on school trips to famous temples. But we didn't become a Hindu, we got educated. Every school has its culture: if you go to a Punjabi school, the children, irrespective of their religion, recite Punjabi prayers; you go to a Hindu school, the children recite Hindu prayers."
Meena Naaz
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Another parent asked whether the government can promise the same level of education, comfort, and lower fees if they admit their children to other schools.

"They are saying that they will admit our kids to a government school, how many government schools have performed at par with the Ganga Jamna School students? Firstly, we won't allow our kids to study in Hindi medium, secondly, we can't afford to bear costlier education, I don't know if the government understands this."
A parent

"We ask the chief minister: does he consider himself the mama of only Hindu nieces? Is he not the mama of my daughter or other Muslim girls? Is he not the brother of Muslim women, and will he not stand with his Muslim sisters?" the parent asked.

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Once Peaceful, Damoh Now a Breeding Ground for Communal Tensions

The Ganga Jamna School's future, meanwhile, remains uncertain.

When asked about the suspension of the school's accreditation and whether it would be reinstated, district education officer SK Nema, who was transferred in place of SK Mishra, after the latter initially gave the clean chit to the school, said:

"We have forwarded all files and reports to our higher authorities. The decision on the continuation/cancellation of the school's accreditation will be done within the week. And based on that whatever arrangements would be required we will do. In case the students do not get admission to an English medium school, a new school will be set up."

A local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, who spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, said that the incident and the way the Hindutva brigade created chaos around it will pave the way for a further rift between the two communities.

"Damoh has been a very peaceful place in terms of religious tensions. We have co-existed with Muslims and vice-versa for decades, but this incident and the way in which the Ganga Jamna school was targeted will pave the way for further rifts between the two communities."
Local BJP leader

The school's lawyer Shrivastav also raised concerns over the fate of the students, and said that such issues, if given a communal spin, would only hamper the brotherhood that exists in the area.

"The school has been functioning as per the laws and rules of the minority educational institution. These issues that have been given a communal spin would hamper the peace of Damoh. We have been a city of love and brotherhood. 'Damoh ka moh bana rahe'."
Anunoday Shrivastav

(with inputs from Imtiyaz Chishti)

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Topics:  Hijab   Damoh   ground report 

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