Since the last week of May, the city of Madhya Pradesh, Damoh is making it to national television almost every day. It all started with a poster from the private school called, ‘Ganga Jamna’ which was shared and called out in large numbers for making Hindu and Jain students wear Hijab compulsorily. The matter turned so big that the Chief Minister of the State had to give assurance of a detailed investigation from one of his rallies. After rounds of notices and conferences, a case has been registered and as many as three people including the principal of the school have been arrested.
To get the things in detail, this correspondent went to Damoh almost 250 kilometres from the state capital Bhopal this week (June 13). The visit involved meeting Hindu families whose children were studying at the school and getting into the reasoning of why they sent their children to a school that is analogous to a Madarsa.
Amidst all this, Vimal Soni’s 11-year-old son, Kamal (name changed) has become a centre of attraction to all the media persons. Kamal recites ayats and ‘Surah-Al-Fatiha’ frequently despite being a Hindu. Not only Vimal’s son but there are as many as 350 (out of 1200 students at the school) Hindu students who were offering the same prayers at the school and were passively moving towards Islam.
On May 30, posters of meritorious students installed outside the school went viral on social media. The shocking fact about these posters was that even the Hindu and Jain girls were wearing Hijab (mandatory in Islam) as their school uniform. Soon, rounds of investigation and raids began and even the Chief Minister of the state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Home Minister, Dr Narottam Mishra intervened and assured a detailed investigation.
Till the time this report was compiled, as many as three people, the principal, a teacher and a peon were arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police under sections of Juvenile Justice and Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. A bulldozer drive was also organised inside the school premises, demolishing the illegal construction. However, the main building remained intact.
The administrators of the school have been identified as Haji Mohammad Idris, Vice President of Ganga Jamna welfare society Haji Abdul Razzaq, casier of Ganga Jamna Society Haji Mohammad Mushtaq and others.
Before moving ahead let us take you through a detailed timeline of the events:
On May 31, posters of meritorious students from a private school started making rounds on the internet. Some of these girls were Hindus and Jains and hence it sparked controversy. Out of 18 mentioned students, three were boys and the rest were girls. Out of 15 girls, four were from Hindu and Jain communities. Shockingly, all these girls were seen wearing Hijab (scarf covering heads). Organiser found videos of students reciting ‘Lab pe aai hai dua..’ as school prayers and wrote a letter to the NCPCR for the same.
The NCPCR Action
Taking cognizance of the matter the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Priyank Kanoongo issued a notice (number DD6270) the same day (May 31) to the District Magistrate (DM) demanding an action report within a week. The major areas to be investigated as per the notice were; if the school had permission to allow hijabs as a dress code. The commission also found videos of students reciting religious prayers, the authorities seem to breach Article 28(3) of the Indian constitution and the sources of funding received by the institution.
District Administartion’s Denial
Damoh Collector Mayank Agarwal Tweeted, “The information being spread by some people regarding a poster of Ganga Jamna School was found to be wrong by the station in-charge local Kotwali, and the District Education Officer and the inquiry committee submitted its report.” The SP Damoh also replied to the tweet that “the allegations were not proved on the investigation”. After the clean chit given to the school by the DM, SP and District Education Officer (DEO) SK Mishra, raged mob splashed ink on his face and raised ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans.
Chouhan took cognizance of the matter and said will never allow things like this in Madhya Pradesh ever. Amid rising controversy, the administrator of the school Haji Mohammad Idris, wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of the state Shivraj Singh Chouhan, stating the scarf was never mandatory as a school uniform it was always optional, however, from now onwards, the headscarf or Hijab will not be a part of the school uniform for any girl studying at the school.
Inspection Drive By SCPCR
On June 2, Members of the state SCPCR visited the school and found irregularities and proofs of Islamic conversion. The same day a circular was issued stating the registration of the school had been suspended by the state education department. Speaking with Organiser Megha Pawar, member SCPCR shared, Ayats from Quran were written over the blackboard, students were asked to recite Islamic prayers, were forced to wear Hijab, and remove Kalwa and Tilak. Students having Hindu names had Hijab pictures in the school register. The Kindergarten students had books with questions like, Who are you–I am a Muslim, What is your religion–My religion is Islam, Where is Allah–Allah is everywhere and many such questions. The same day NCPCR issued a notice (number: LC6535) to the DM and SP Damoh, demanding the institution of an FIR against the school authorities.
Loophole in Suspension
The NCPCR head while speaking to Organiser said, “The board has only suspended the registration of the school and has not cancelled permanently. The basis of this cancellation is the compromised infrastructure and not the Islamic practices followed and forced by the administration on Hindu students. As soon as the administration of the school will meet the specified guidelines pertaining to the infrastructure, they will get the registration back, the commission is committed to making sure this does not happen”.
The ‘Ganga Jamna’ Enterprise
The founder of the school Haji Idris and his family did not stop at the school, they have multiple business outlets from pulses mill to Bidi to clothes and transport. On June 6, the NCPCR issued a notice (number: PD6499) to the education directorate, Madhya Pradesh demanding a report on the allegations of illegal stocking of ‘Tendu Patta’ in government premises by Ganga Jamna authorities.
Distorted Map Of India In Logo
The logo of the school and other enterprises uses a symbol in which half of India is disappeared by tampering the map of India. ‘This type of tampering with the map of our sovereign nation India by the educational institution will not be tolerated at all’ said NCPCR head. He added, the accused must be booked under the sedition law.
FIR against Administration
A First Information Report (number–498/2023) was registered at the Damoh Kotwali on June 7 against the principal Afsa Shiekh daughter of Sahil Shrivastava, maths teacher Anas Ahtar and peon Rustum. All these accused have been booked under IPC sections 295-A (outraging religious feelings), 506 (criminal intimidation), sections 75 and 87 of the Juvenile Justice Act and sections 3 / 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. On June 10, all three accused were sent to jail.
The Bulldozer Drive
On June 13 the state Home Minister Dr Narottam Mishra while speaking with the media said, ‘There can be bulldozer action against the illegal construction at the Ganga Jamna School’. The same day the Municipal Corporation teams arrived at the school with a bulldozer and removed the illegally constructed structure on the third floor. Notably, the same team when arrived in the morning was sent back following a widespread protest by the Muslim community.
The Ground Visit
This correspondent visited the city on June 13 and at every nook and corner people were discussing about the school and the administrative action. Some were happy and some were concerned for their children’s future.
As soon as this correspondent reached the school campus, there were a number of media persons standing outside, the bulldozer and the municipal authorities have just left, said a report for IBC 27.
The main entrance to the school was locked, and beside the school was a Mosque, reports have claimed that there is a secret door to this mosque from the school campus, however, Organiser did not go inside the school to confirm the exit.
This correspondent walked for almost 100 metres to reach the house of Vikram Singh Gaur whose 7-year-old son, Sarthak (name changed) was studying at the Ganga Jamna School in class 2. I also met his wife, Neelam Gaur, they both said, their son is small and they thought once he learns the basics and is ready to sit in the class, they will shift him to Gurunanak Public School, which is almost 5 kilometres away from where they lived.
Talking to Organiser, Sarthak said, at the school, he had all subjects with compulsory Arbi. He was not well in that subject and hence the teachers used to punish him. Vikram said, the school did not allow his son to wear Rakhi, he once raised this issue in the parents-teacher meeting but received no sincere response, the authorities said, the thread might hurt other students. Vikram works as a contractor while his wife is a homemaker.
Then, I reached the house of Vimal Soni, a photographer by profession who lived in a two-room house. One worked as a kitchen and the other as a drawing and bedroom. His 11-year-old son Kamal (name changed) was studying in class-5 at the school. Kamal was studying compulsory Arbi as a subject and he had recited the Surah-Al-Fatiha, recited in front of this correspondent as well. He said teachers would punish them for not scoring well in Arbi, he was never allowed to put Tilak and wear Kalwa in his hand inside the school campus. Even if he had one, the peon on the gate would ask to remove it before entering the campus.
Vimal said, he was sending his son to this school as the fees were low and the school was close to his house. They paid Rs 10,900 per year as the school fee, which included the books and dress fees as well.
Asked if the teachers asked the students to offer Namaz, Vimal said, no.
This correspondent then moved to Sapna Chourasiya’s house, two of her daughters were studying at the Ganga Jamna School, one in Class–9 and the other in Class–5. She said, their father runs a Paan Shop and they hardly make ends meet, the school had a low fee and was English medium as well, so they ignored other things. They thought the Hijab was a head scarf only. They were paying Rs 12,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively as yearly fees for their daughter’s education. Sapna said, her husband is more into work and less into the education of their daughters, so sending their girls to this school became the ultimate choice for her. Both her daughters Tripti and Saloni (name changed) are studying at the school since kindergarten. Tripti showed this correspondent her school diary which had Surah-Al-Fatiha, Lab pe aai hai dua and prayers to be offered before lunch as well. The diary also had to greet texts in Urdu, Tripti said, they had to learn Arabic as a compulsory subject till class–5 and Urdu till class–12. The books of Urdu and Arabic were issued by the NCERT. Even after being an English medium school, the first language of students were Urdu and Arabic, in the school.
This correspondent met another family of Shurti and Prakash Chourasiya, two of their daughters were going to the Ganga Jamna school and they studied in Class–8 and Class–10. They were also sending their daughters to this school because of the low fees and had no problem with the head scarf. The girls were having Urdu as a subject and were never allowed to enter the school without ‘Ahraam’ (Hijab). Asked if lockets and chains were allowed in the school, as they were wearing one, they said it went invisible after wearing Ahram.
Asked if there ever happened any Takrir or seminar in the school where any cleric was invited, she did not answer. Asked if they were allowed to celebrate Holi or draw Rangoli inside the school campus, she said no. She accepted that there were special celebrations on Eid and every week they had a half-day on Fridays. Asked what kind of songs were played during the republic day and Independence Day celebrations, she said, ‘Muslim’ songs, asked to name one, she said she forget the lyrics.
After getting out of the colony this correspondent found a group of people assembled in front of the Mosque. I reached there and talked to the people. One of them introduced himself as Mohammad Javed said, two of his daughters were studying at the school and the administration was doing wrong by closing the school. Asked if his daughter was asked to wear a saffron dupatta in a school run by temple authorities, will he be ok?
He said, “I will send my daughter to that school without Hijab and with a saffron dupatta, as education comes first.” Asked but in Kerala, women are protesting for Hijab, he said, he believes education should be the priority. Javed is a driver by profession.
Another man Sadaddudin said his daughters study in Class-4 and Class-1. Some of the locals said there was a special provision of scholarships for the minority community students in the school, but Sadadddudin refused to all the allegations. He said, there was no compulsory Hijab and no such prayers were conducted.
One of the students Mohammad Aman accepted that they were made to recite Surah-Fatiah, he also recited some verses. When asked for the translations, none of them translated it, some elderlies were also there but they said only the Imam of the Mosque can translate it, they read it without knowing its meaning. He added, the Muslims recite the Surah-Fatiah before Namaz.
Asked if any of them knew any Hindu mantra they said, no. But Ganga Jamna being a private school providing religious teachings was not wrong for them.
They all said this was done for political motives.
Talking with Organiser, NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo, who initiated the action in the case by issuing a notice to the SP and DM revealed a number of loopholes.
Kanoongo said they received a complaint about the school during a bench that was set up in the district to listen to the children and their grievances. The students claimed that they were forced to follow Islamic religious practices and wear Hijab at school. Soon after receiving the complaint, they issued a notice to the District Magistrate who discarded the allegations saying, no such angle was tracked.
Talking about the suspension, Kanoongo said, “The board has only suspended the registration of the school and has not cancelled permanently. The basis of this cancellation is the compromised infrastructure and not the practices followed and forced by the administration. As soon as the administration of the school will meet the specified guidelines pertaining to the infrastructure, they will get the registration back, the commission is committed to making sure this does not happen,” he added.
He further said, the school as the name suggests and the parents claimed is an English medium private school, however, the first language of the school is Urdu. Notably, Madhya Pradesh is a state with Hindi as the state language but this school is forcing students to choose Urdu as their language.
He added they have found a hostel run by the school administration in Bhopal with the name ‘Manzil’ but the board suggested it was a ‘Shri Ram’ hostel.
There are statements of the students from the school who claimed that they were forced to offer Namaz on Fridays, they were forced to offer Iqbal’s controversial poems and were asked to wear Hijab. Talking about their statements Kanoongo said, forcing minors to practice a religion other than theirs is a breach of Article 28(3) of the constitution.
He added, this is not the first case where Hindu children were forced to practice Islamic religious practices, before this students were illegally admitted to a Madarsa in the Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh. In that matter also no action was taken by the state education department, so only suspensions will not work and that thorough investigation is expected.
Additionally, the local Hindu activists and the district VHP head, Abhitendra Rai while speaking with Organiser said, the main accused in this case was Haji Idris who runs several illegal businesses, in Damoh and nearby areas he owns around 5000 acres of land, which needs to be investigated. As many as 9 businesses are run by him in Damoh only. He runs a hostel in Bhopal and whatnot. His exports are linked to the middle east and he is surely taking foreign funding in the name of this school.
Notably, no arrests have been made by the administration against the administrators of the school.
The school, Ganga–Jamna Higher Secondary School is an English medium private institution located in ward number–4 of the Futera area in Damoh district.
Organiser checked the Facebook and YouTube pages of the Ganga Jamna school and found several controversial stuff. Pictures of the students posted by teachers of the school show, that the girls are wearing Hijab even during the sports day. Some of them might be Muslims but not everyone. The yearly class photographs posted on Facebook show, the heads of these girls covered. Those who have not worn Hijabs had kept dupatta on their heads.
It is pertinent to mention that this is not the first time that Hindu activists have complained about the school and their forced religious practices. Back in September 2021, the members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) handed over a memorandum to the DM. They alleged that the students at Ganga Jamna school are forced to take the Madarsa kind of education. The girl students at the school were forced to wear Hijab whereas the boys were forced to offer Namaz. Inside the classroom, Quran Ayat’s were written in Arabic language and many such points were raised in the memorandum.
Organiser has been covering this case from day one and we have made sure the administration takes action in this case. We brought the prayers and textbooks to everyone’s notice. We believe this is the first leg of the action against the perpetrators, who were using the young minds to meet their nefarious agenda. The administrator Haji Idris is a well-connected person both financially and politically, he is going to be a big fish for this net. The action mode of the Madhya Pradesh government gives hope and belief to the people of the state.
The SCPCR member Megha Pawar while speaking with Organiser said they have marked some government schools in the town where these students will be admitted. She added some of the NGOs have also come forward to fund the education of these students.
We will keep bringing all the details of this case to our readers.