Gujarat: Directive on 'Saraswati Vandana' in Ahmedabad schools kicks up storm

Ahmedabad: The Ahmedabad School Board has whipped up a controversy with its circular asking all schools to hold 'Saraswati Vandana' on Vasant Panchami tomorrow, drawing accusations of promoting ruling BJP's Hindutva agenda and warnings of legal action and protest by Congress.

"Vasant Panchami is the occasion to remember Goddess of knowledge Maa Saraswati Devi. To make students understand the importance of education, schools need to organize Saraswati Puja and make students recite prayers of Saraswati during prayer gathering. Also, make them understand how Vasant Panchami is celebrated in other states," reads the January 19 circular issued by the board.

Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation's (AMC) School Board runs around 450 primary schools in the city, including 64 Urdu medium schools, mostly in Muslim dominated areas attended by around 16,000 students from the minority community.

The circular has raised the hackles of opposition Congress, which has dubbed the move as an attack on the fundamental rights of Muslims. All forms of idolatry is prohibited in Islam.

Congress councillor from Sarkhej ward Haji Mirza Baig called it an attempt to promote the BJP's Hindutva agenda. "In a democracy, everyone has the right to follow their religion and related rituals. This circular is an attack on the freedom of not only Muslims, but also of other religions. Why (do) they want Muslim students to perform puja? It should not be made compulsory in Urdu schools," said Baig.

"Congress councillors will stage protest against such dictatorial approach of AMC. Urdu schools, where majority students are Muslims, must be kept away from this order. Otherwise, we will take legal action and knock the doors of the court," he warned.

Amid the mounting outcry over its circular, the board attempted a damage control with its chairman claiming it was not intended to hurt anybody's religious sentiments.

"Our sole aim is to promote the quest for knowledge among children and not to hurt the followers of any religion," Jagdish Bhavsar, chairman of the board, said. "Everybody prays and worships in his own way. If they are not comfortable with offering prayers to Saraswati, they can do 'Ibadat' (worship) in their own way. The only aim of this circular is to make children aware of the importance of education," he said.

AMC School Board's administrator L D Desai appeared to defend the move, saying, "Saraswati is the goddess of education and schools are temples of education for students of all religions. Thus, we just want students to understand the importance of education by remembering the goddess through prayer on that day."

Describing it as an "educational and not religious" programme, Desai said,"There is absolutely no controversy. None of the Urdu medium schools have approached us against this programme."

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