The debate over religious activities being performed in schools has once again sparked outrage in Karnataka. This time, it is an announcement by Education Minister BC Nagesh, saying Ganesha Chaturthi would be celebrated as usual in schools and colleges on 31 August.
Meanwhile, welcoming the move, the Karnataka Waqf Board said that imparting religious education was imperative to inculcate moral values to students.
However, the board has also demanded that the education department allow Muslim students to offer Namaz in schools and also permit them to celebrate Eid Milad on campus.
Education Minister Accused of Religious Indoctrination
Just months after banning hijab in schools and pre-university colleges, Karnataka Education Minister BC Nagesh drew flak for giving green signal to schools to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi.
Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, the minister defended his comment and said "Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in public places was started during the freedom struggle. It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who started Ganapti Utsavs in schools, hostels, universities, and public places. This is not an initiative by any government which was elected to power."
The education minister further defended his move and said that all educational institutions are free to celebrate the festival. "One cannot treat this festival as religious ceremony. It is a movement to unite people," he added.
Thrity-year old Aqib Khan (name changed), a resident of South Bengaluru whose child goes to a school in the city, said that while he had no problem with the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, repeated statements by the education minister promoting only one faith has been a cause of concern to him and his family members.
"I went to a private school where the majority of my classmates were Hindus. We all celebrated all festivals together. It was never used as a political tool back then. Today, the minister persistently makes it a point to highlight only Hindu ceremonies. This has not gone well among students," Aqib says in his interaction with The Quint.
"My son also goes to a private school where the institution promised us secular education. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. First, they compelled students to learn Bhagavad Gita, and now it is Ganesh Chathurthi."Aqib Khan, Parent of a School Student, Bengaluru
Condemning the move, the Campus Front of India, student wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI) said that by enshrining Ganesha in government schools and colleges, the education minister was making an attempt to create unrest in the education sector and gain political advantage.
This is not the first time that BC Nagesh has stirred a controversy. Earlier, he asserted that the government would go ahead with the printing of the controversial revised textbooks by Chakrathirtha committee.
Earlier in first week of August, the minister had also announced that Bhagavad Gita will be introduced in schools as a part of the curriculum and that stories from Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata will be taught to impart moral values to students.
Allow Namaz in Schools: Karnataka Waqf Board
Despite many minority organisations condemning the move by the education minister, the Karnataka Waqf Board has welcomed the move.
Speaking to The Quint, Maulana Shafi Saadi, chairman of the board said, "This is a good development. But, what I want to say is that all schools and colleges must ensure that religious aspects are also taught. But, the government must also consider students who belong to other communities. I request the minister to give a separate space for Muslim students in all schools to perform namaz."
"In order to maintain equality, students must be made aware of religious texts. Today, the phrase Allahu Akbar is being misappropriated and is been given a colour of violence. The government should humbly consider my plea and ensure that Christians attend their prayers and Muslim are allowed to perform Namaz. This is the only way forward," he added.
However, education minister BC Nagesh has turned down the board's request to allow Namaz in school premises. Earlier, the minister had also claimed that, as per the high court's order no religious symbols, including hijab and other Hindu representative signs were allowed inside the classrooms.
Speaking to The Quint, Narasimha Swamy (name changed), a parent of a student who goes to a government school in Bengaluru, said, "Our education minister had opposed hijab and other religious symbols in school. But, today he wishes to allow Ganesh Chaturthi. I find it hypocritical of the government to take such decisions. According to me, the school management must have a prerogative on these matters, and not the government."
Meanwhile, the association of management of primary and secondary schools in Karnataka said that it was wrong of the education department to make such statements, and accused the Bommai government of creating a divisive environment in schools.
"This is heights of stupidity. The government cannot mandate such festivals. However, a lot of schools already have been celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. This is nothing new. I just want to tell the minister to not spoil the education system for political gains."Shashi Kumar, General Secretary, Association of Management of Primary and Secondary Schools
The association also said that it was not in support of the Waqf's demand to have a separate space for performing Namaz. "By allotting separate room for Muslim prayers, one would allow unnecessary escalation of conflict among students of a different faith. We must hope for secular and scientific education to develop overall well-being of the student," he added.