The Bihar government has drastically trimmed the list of holidays on Hindu festivals for the rest of the year from 24 to 8, triggering ‘Muslim appeasement’ charges from the BJP.
The state education department has brought out a revised list of holidays for the rest of the calendar year from September to December in which the reduction in holidays has been notified.
The department has justified the cuts citing the Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009 which mandates that there must be a minimum of 200 teaching days in primary schools and 220 days in middle schools (Classes 6 to 8).
The education department, controlled by additional chief secretary (education) K K Pathak, an IAS officer who is considered to be very close to chief minister Nitish Kumar, has said that “due to elections, law and order situations, examinations, festivals, flood, natural disasters, different competitive and recruitment tests and other important programmed, teaching gets affected in schools”.
Due to all these disruptions, the number of teaching days in schools in Bihar will fall short of the mandatory minimum as specified under the RTE. Hence, this decision to cut down on the number of holidays.
But teachers’ associations, guardians and others, including the BJP, argue that it is only because teachers of schools are drafted for a lot of non-academic work in gross violation of the RTE that the number of teaching days gets affected.
The BJP has pointed out that the Bihar government has targeted only Hindu festivals and left Islamic festivals untouched.
“This amounts to blatant Muslim appeasement. The next step will be application of the Sharia law in Bihar. Already, schools in some districts of Bihar observe Friday as the weekly holiday instead of Sunday as is the practice in the rest of the country. Friday is a holiday only in Islamic countries, but Nitish Kumar has happily allowed schools to be closed on Fridays on the instructions of mullahs,” Union Rural Development Minister and Begusarai Lok Sabha MP Giriraj Singh told Swarajya.
The original list announced by the state education department at the beginning of the calendar year listed 24 holidays in the four months between September and December. But the new list cuts down the number of holidays to twelve.
But three of the twelve days are Sundays, and that effectively brings down the number of holidays to nine during this period.
As per the new list, schools will remain open on Janmastami (7 September), Haritalkia Vrat (Teej) on 18 and 19 September, Jitiya (6 October) and Guru Nanak Jayanti (27 November).
The six-day holiday during Durga Puja has been cut down to three (22 to 24 October), but 22 October is a Sunday. That means only Maha Navami and Dashami are school holidays.
The nine-day holiday during Diwali to Chhat Puja from 13 to 21 November has been cut down to four: Diwali (12 November), Bhaiya Dooj (15 November) and Chhat Puja (19 and 20 November). But 12 and 19 November are Sundays; so effectively, only two days are holidays. Thus, the nine-day holiday period has been trimmed to just two.
But Islamic festivals have not been touched. 6 September will be a holiday on account of Chehlum (or ) which is observed only by Shias, who form a very small portion of the Muslim population in Bihar.
Schools will also remain closed on 28 September which is the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. 25 December is also a holiday for Christmas.
Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi, who had served many years as Deputy Chief Minister, told Swarajya that the revised holiday list is yet another example of ‘anti-Hindu policies being pursued by the Nitish Kumar government to appease Muslims”.
“I am not against any faith. There is no problem with schools remaining closed on Islamic festivals or occasions and on Christmas, but why target only Hindu festivals in the name of ensuring that the RTE requirement on minimum number of teaching days is honoured?” he asked.
“The RTE also prohibits teachers from being used for non-academic work. But the government has used teachers for carrying out the caste survey, and it has deployed teachers for election duties, conducting exams, carrying out relief work and sundry other tasks. That is also a gross violation of the RTE Act. Since teachers are used for all this work, they have not been able to teach,” said Modi.
Samrat Choudhary, the president of the Bihar unit of the BJP, told Swarajya that the party would hold protests against the revised holiday list. “This move is very unfortunate. The Nitish Kumar government wants to bar followers of Sanatan Dharm from celebrating our festivals. Even Sikhs have not been spared and the holiday on their most important festival, the birthday of Guru Nanak, has been scrapped,” said Choudhary.
Union Minister Giriraj Singh said that the Nitish Kumar government could scrap the holidays on Hindu festivals because “Hindus are not a vote bank”.
“They (Nitish Kumar and the RJD) want to divide Hindu society into castes and unite Muslims and appease Muslims. Bihar was the hotbed of the extremist (SIMI), which is a banned terror organisation, when the RJD was in power. Now, another banned Islamist organisation, the , has been allowed to become active in Bihar,” said Singh.
Teachers’ bodies are also up in arms against the revised holiday list. “This tughlaqi firmaan needs to be revoked immediately or else we will launch an agitation,” Bihar Primary School Teachers’ Association president Anand Kaushal Singh told Swarajya.
“Teachers follow all directives of the government without a murmur of protest. Teachers are engaged in a lot of non-academic work like carrying out the caste survey and we have worked even on Sundays and other holidays. It is cruel to deny teachers holidays on festivals and make them work,” said Singh.
Bihar Secondary teachers’ Association president Shatrughan Prasad Singh argued that schools in Bihar have fallen woefully short of the minimum number of teaching days under the RTE Act because teachers have been used for non-academic work by the state government.
“If teachers were not sent away on such work, the number of teaching days would not be affected. Cutting down the number of holidays amounts to penalising teachers for the government’s own fault,” he added.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi said that students will stay away from classes during festivals even if schools are open then. And that will defeat the very purpose of the RTE Act. Through festivals, children learn about their religion, culture and traditions. To force children to attend school during festivals amounts to denying them their right to learn about their own religion and culture,” he said.
BJP state chief Samrat Choudhary said it is cruel to deny teachers the privilege of celebrating festivals with their families. “In the garb of following the RTE Act, the Bihar government is discriminating against Hindus. This cannot be tolerated,” he said.
The Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), partners in the ruling coalition in Bihar, have rejected the BJP’s accusations.
“Bringing religion into this is wrong. The step to cut down on holidays has been taken in the interests of school children. The BJP is making it into a communal issue,” said JD(U) spokesperson Abhishek Jha.
RJD spokesperson Mritunjoy Tiwari echoed Jha and said the step has been taken to improve the standard of education in Bihar. But both the spokespersons refused to answer why the Bihar government drafts teachers for non-academic work, thus affecting teaching and the number of teaching days in schools.
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