For over 10 days now, Arif*, a student of Class 7, in a school run by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has been in a dilemma over whether to attend school or look for another educational institution. His parents too have been considering if Arif can be enrolled in another school, or a madrasa.Arif’s schoolmate Junaid*, who is also his neighbour in Juhapura, a Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad, has...

For over 10 days now, Arif*, a student of Class 7, in a school run by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has been in a dilemma over whether to attend school or look for another educational institution. His parents too have been considering if Arif can be enrolled in another school, or a madrasa.

Arif’s schoolmate Junaid*, who is also his neighbour in Juhapura, a Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad, has been thinking of enrolling in a madrasa.

The dilemma has been haunting Muslim students since last week when the Gujarat government decided to make Bhagavad Gita a compulsory part of school curriculum. Teachers in more than 600 schools in Ahmedabad began training for the same in the last week of June this year. Since July 1, it has been a mandatory part of government schools causing uneasiness among the students and parents of the minority community.

“Last Monday, our teacher told us that every morning we will have a compulsory class on Gita and we will be marked on it. I was confused first. I definitely didn’t think I had to attend being a non-Hindu. But the next day, I was called and told it was mandatory for me as well,” Arif told The Federal.

“Students of all religions now have to attend Gita classes. One cannot skip it as students will be evaluated on their knowledge of Gita like other subjects. I wonder why a religious book belonging to one religion has been incorporated into school syllabus. What will be achieved by teaching a Muslim boy Gita,” Arif’s father Rehman* asked.

“The new session began in June in schools. So, we are thinking before it’s too late Arif can be enrolled in a private school or a madrasa. We have already approached some local private schools but their fee is beyond our budget. If this continues, madrasa is the only choice we have,” he added.

Noticeably, on June 18, Gujarat Education Minister Praful Pansheriya launched a project titled ‘Vidyarthi Jeevan Pathdarshak Banshe Shreemad Bhagwad Gita’ (Srimad Bhagavad Gita will become a guide to student life) at an event in Ahmedabad. Under the project, studying Gita was made mandatory for students from Class 6 to 12 in all government-run schools of Gujarat.

Subsequently, the Ahmedabad District Education Office of Ahmedabad created audiovisual lessons for training over 3,000 teachers across Ahmedabad.

“It will apply to all schools including government, grant-in-aid and private institutions. Even though we cannot force it on the minority-run schools, we have advised them to implement the project in their schools also. To begin with, these videos will be a mandatory part of the morning assembly in more than 600 schools in Ahmedabad. Eventually, it will be introduced in the form of story and recitation in the textbook of Sarvangi Shikshan subject for Class 6 to 8 and for Class 9 to 12 the teachings of Gita will be covered in the first language textbook,” Krupa Jha, the district education officer (DEO) of Ahmedabad Rural, said.

“One shloka or one video will be taken every week. A circular for the same has also been issued to all schools. The move has been taken under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and the state government’s initiative. Aspects like character-building, distraction management, stress management and food management linked to modern lifestyle challenges will be covered in learnings from 51 shlokas (verses) of Bhagavad Gita, which will be imparted through videos. Teachers will also assess students on weekly assignments,” added Jha.

The government resolution

Initially, in March 2022, then education minister Jitu Vaghani had announced in the Assembly that school students should have an understanding of Gita and its shlokas. On March 17, 2022, a government resolution was issued stating that students of Classes 6 to 12 will be introduced to values and principles of Bhagavad Gita from the 2022-23 academic session.

At the time, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs had agreed to the resolution while the Congress had opposed it the assembly. The resolution was presented again by current education minister Pansheriya during the Budget Session to make Bhagavad Gita a part of the curriculum in government schools from June 2024. The resolution was passed without opposition this time.

“What is the need for discussion when the resolution states that it has been decided to introduce Bhagavad Gita in schools. We do not have any objection to the resolution but the way the resolution was presented in the assembly,” said Congress Legislative Party leader Amit Chavda.

“The BJP government brought this resolution to hide their failures. As per a recent report, Gujarat ranks 15th among 18 large states in student-teacher ratio. States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are ahead of us. Gujarat’s dropout ratio is also increasing and shortage of teachers is also a serious issue. Instead of focusing on real issues that ail the education system of the state, the BJP has come up with a decision to distract people from its failures,” Manish Doshi, the spokesperson of Gujarat Congress, had told the media.

Noticeably, despite criticism, the project was launched four months after the resolution was passed. The decision was implemented from June 13 as the new academic session at schools commenced.

PIL in High Court

A PIL was filed by Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Gujarat and Jamiat Ulama Welfare Trust in the Gujarat High Court challenging the government’s resolution in June this year.

The petition stated that, “on grounds of it being contrary to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and sought the resolution be declared unconstitutional.”

“Does the state have the jurisdiction to give a diktat to this effect when the curriculum and syllabus is to be prescribed by other statutory bodies such as the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT) and the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB),” read the petition further.

“The resolution is contrary to Articles 25, 28 and 51A (f) of the Constitution. Article 25 refers to freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion, Article 28 states that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds and Article 51A (f), under the fundamental duties upholds to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture,” advocate Mihir Joshi, who is representing the petitioners, told The Federal.

However, the High Court bench hearing the petition set aside the matter for next hearing date on August 18 while refusing the petitioners’ request for an early hearing. The court also issued a notice to the state government and sought a reply from the government to its notice by August 18.

Meanwhile, the HC bench gave an interim relief to the state government as it refused to stay a resolution issued by the education department mandating the learning of Bhagavad Gita in schools.

The Opposition to the project

The government’s decision to incorporate Bhagavad Gita as a compulsory text for the students has made the minority communities uneasy and drawn criticism from educationist and academicians across Gujarat.

“The circular from the district education office came on June 19 in our school. From June 21, the training of teachers began after school hours. It was mandatory for all of us to attend the sessions. I am the only non-Hindu teacher in my school so I hesitated from expressing my opinion about the decision. But my disagreement is not because I am a Christian. I disagree with this as a teacher. I feel we will be wasting the time of both teachers and students. I don’t see a point in the government’s decision. What exactly will be achieved by learning Gita verses? If at all a new course has to be incorporated, it should be a professional course that can help the students in future,” said A Mendonca (name changed), a secondary school teacher in Ahmedabad.

Some say the move should not be seen in isolation but as part of the larger design to build a Hindu Rashtra.

“One has to understand the context in which the decision to bring an ancient text into school syllabus has been taken. It is nothing but a step towards fulfilling the dreams of Hindu Rashtra. Besides, compulsory reading of a religious text is intimidating for other religions, violating the very essence of constitutional morality and religious freedom,” Manishi Jaani, an academician and political analyst said while speaking to The Federal.

“This is definitely against the rights of minority students. The decision has made the minority community awkward and they fear expressing their disagreement openly. The Muslim community in Gujarat fears for its safety and security. Since the 2002 riots, it has been the first priority of the Muslim families across the state. Hence the families have been very reserved about this. However, they are not comfortable with it either. Many are thinking of switching their wards to madrasas,” Mujaheed Nafees, who heads Minority Coordination Committee, a minority rights-based organisation based out of Gujarat, said.

(*Some names have been changed to protect identities.)

Next Story