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Anti-Minority Trials: How Schools in Rajasthan Are Becoming BJP’s Hindutva Labs

The fundamental legal maxim – innocent until proven guilty – stands ignored in the rush to punish Muslim teachers.

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In recent years, India has witnessed disturbing trends of discrimination and prejudice against its Muslim minority population. With charges of 'appeasement’, 'Love Jihad’, and forced conversions being hurled repeatedly, the Hindu politico-religious right has made no secret of its desire to silence, alienate and disempower Muslims.

A striking example has now erupted in Rajasthan’s Kota district where three Muslim teachers have been suddenly suspended by the state government on charges of religious conversion and Love Jihad.

The abrupt and seemingly arbitrary action against Muslim teachers of a government school in a Kota village has created a furore in the desert state which has seen escalating anti-Muslim agendas since the BJP returned to power last December.

Even a broad outline of this episode is enough to underline that prejudice has trumped due process. The fundamental legal maxim – innocent until proven guilty – has been royally ignored in the rush to punish Muslim teachers.
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Rajasthan Minister’s Hitting Statement Based on Religious Bias

The punishment of the teachers was prompted by the complaints of a Hindutva outfit named "Sarva Hindu Samaj" which submitted a memorandum to Education Minister Madan Dilawar during his visit to Kota’s Sangod block on 20 February. The group claims the three Muslim teachers were forcing Hindu students to offer namaz (prayer), convert to Islam, and were involved with some banned 'Jihadi outfits’.

Despite the outlandish accusations (which government teacher in a BJP-ruled state today would be silly enough to make Hindu students offer namaaz?), the minister’s response was swift and startling.

Based on the memorandum, Dilawar, known for his long and strong RSS connection, quickly ordered the suspension of two teachers – Firoz Khan and Mirza Mujahid – while disciplinary proceedings were initiated against a woman teacher Shabana who too was suspended two days later.

In a video message, Minister Dilawar soon claimed the "allegations are true.” His revealing remarks are worth quoting in detail.

Dilawar says: "In the Khajuri village, Sangod panchayat of Kota district, the religion of a girl in senior secondary school was mentioned as 'Islam’ in the transfer certificate, despite her being a Hindu. A conspiracy of religious conversion and 'Love Jihad’ is happening there. Hindu girls are being forced to offer namaz….As soon as this was brought to my notice, I decided to take strict action against the three teachers. I suspended two teachers - Firoz Khan and Mirza Mujahideen. Further action is being taken against one Shabana…I will take strict action against them after a detailed investigation. If needed, I will dismiss them.”

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One-Sided Measures, 'Love Jihad’ Term Spark Controversy

As the Minister’s comments reflect, he was determined to take action immediately after hearing the charges against the Muslim teachers - and did so without an enquiry. Despite the sensitivity of the allegations, Dilawar initiated punitive measures without even a basic probe which smacks of arbitrary action.

Given the grave charges, the need to follow established service rules in this case can hardly be overstressed. But far from handling the matter deftly, the minister’s alacrity to 'punish’ the Muslim teachers links up with his RSS backdrop and seems aimed at bolstering his Hindutva hardliner image.
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Amazingly, the suspension order of the Education Department, issued at minister Dilawar’s behest mentions 'Love Jihad’ as a key charge against the teachers. As is well-known, ‘Love Jihad’ is a term often used by right-wing activists to allege a ploy by Muslim men to lure Hindu women into religious conversion through marriage but it has no legal sanctity.

No wonder, government corridors in Rajasthan are buzzing that it is strange for official orders to use this term for initiating action against the teachers.

Social activists and fair-minded citizens find it objectionable that action against the Muslim teachers was taken without a proper probe. This incident is a reminder of Dilawar’s proclivity to target minority individuals/institutions.

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A Proven Track Record Of 'Anti-Minority' Stance

Old-timers in Rajasthan recall that in 2006, Dilawar as Social Welfare Minister, had tried to take over all institutions run by a Christian group, the Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) in Kota. Alleging that EMI schools and societies were dens of conversion, Dilawar had targeted the Christian group and cancelled their registrations. Despite his crackdown on EMI, the registrations were later restored by a Rajasthan High Court order.

Significantly, the dubious charges now against the Muslim teachers are considered baseless by their colleagues and most people of the area. The staff of the school in Khajuri and members of the School Management and Development Committee have confirmed that they never heard of any such activity by the three teachers.

12 of the 15 teachers at the school (who are all Hindus) have refuted the charges made by Sarv Hindu Samaj. In separate letters to the education department, each teacher has claimed that the suspended teachers never held any activity relating to namaz, 'love jihad', or religious conversion.

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Embarrassingly for the government, even students are protesting the suspension of their Muslim teachers. On 24 February, scores of students came out in support of the teachers at their school in Khajuri village and some were seen wailing for the return of their teachers.

In one video, students are heard saying, "We will go back to study only after the suspension of our teachers is revoked. We want our teachers back at any cost.” Later, on 26 February, dozens of students from Khajuri village marched to the office of the Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Sangod town to oppose the suspensions.

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Prejudice Over Process? Polarisation in Rajasthan Education Disarming

Shockingly, some students have accused those who gave the memorandum to the Education Minister of compelling them to give false statements against the teachers. In an interview with a TV channel, one student who earlier claimed that the suspended teachers used to conduct namaaz at the school, has clarified that he was forced to falsely frame the teachers! Students say they have no complaints against the teachers and want them to be reinstated immediately.

Not surprisingly, human rights activists and Muslim groups are outraged and slam the suspensions as a bid to create a polarised atmosphere before the Lok Sabha polls.

Rubbishing the allegations as false, the President of Urdu Shikshak Sangh, Amin Kayamkhani claims the "suspensions are arbitrary actions for political appeasement.” Similarly, Rajasthan Muslim Forum’s general secretary Mohammed Nazimuddin dubs it 'a one-sided action’ and blames the regime change (with BJP returning to power) for these "polarisation tactics.”

They have also demanded a fresh enquiry as suspension orders were passed before any serious probe.

The row over these suspensions comes soon after controversies on wearing of hijab in Jaipur schools and making 'Surya Namaskar’ compulsory in schools across Rajasthan. Ever since RSS-backed newbie Bhajanlal Sharma was made Chief Minister last December, the Sangha-lobby is calling the shots in the state amid worries over deepening communal divides.
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With the BJP aiming to win all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state, many fear that divisive efforts may sharpen in the coming weeks. Political circles are buzzing that after Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the RSS wants to turn Rajasthan into its latest lab for hardline Hindutva.

With polarisation being a key component of its arsenal in the recent Assembly elections, the BJP seems to be pushing ahead with divisive agendas well before initiating any governance reforms in Rajasthan.
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While it is heartening to see Hindu students and teachers stand up for their Muslim teachers, it is incumbent on the Rajasthan government to protect the rights and ensure respect for all citizens, regardless of religious or cultural affiliation. Ignoring principles of equality and due process to pursue polarising politics can only damage social cohesion and democratic values.

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 

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Topics:  Love Jihad   Minority   Kota 

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