“A students’ delegation approached us seeking permission to celebrate Nabi Diwas, but we said ‘No’. We told them that if they got permission from the state administration, we would let them hold the event. Saraswati Puja has been celebrated in all schools in the state for decades and does not require special permission”
Tehatta High School has become the target of communal violence since November 2016, after a group of students demanded permit for celebrations of Milaad whilst Hindu students demanded the right to celebrate Saraswati Puja, as per the report published by The Indian Express.
Though the riots have been taking place internally since months, but the situation got heated up on Tuesday, when around 100 students of the Tehatta High School marched to National Highway-6 and blocked the road.
The students, all from Classes VII-XII accompanied by residents of the area carried a three-foot-tall idol of Goddess Saraswati, protesting against the lockdown order of their school which is preventing them from celebrating Saraswati Puja tomorrow inside the premises.
The protesters threw stones, while the police answered with teargas and lathi charge. Two policemen sustained minor injuries.
“We have a right to celebrate Saraswati Puja in our own school. You assure us that we can perform the puja tomorrow. Only then will we leave,” Srinath Santra, 18, told a police official.
The School is situated Tehatta, Uluberia sub-division of Howrah district which has 3 Muslim teachers out of 22.
“A group of Muslim students wanted to be allowed to celebrate Nabi Diwas, Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary, within the school campus last November. They wanted to set up a stage and hold a grand celebration but they were denied permission” said Shantilata Bhuniya, a Sanskrit teacher at the school.
“When I joined the school in 2002, the police camped here on Saraswati Puja to ensure that there was no trouble. But there hasn’t been that much trouble since then,’’ said Bhuniya.
“A students’ delegation approached us seeking permission to celebrate Nabi Diwas, but we said No. There is no provision to celebrate the occasion on the school grounds. We told them that if they got permission from the state administration, we would let them hold the event,’’ said Mohanlal Bhuniya, a member of the school’s governing board.
“But these boys entered the school and constructed a stage for Nabi Diwas. The police have been stationed here since November,’’ he said.
“Saraswati Puja has been celebrated in all schools in the state for decades and does not require special permission,” he added.
The local administration shut down the school on November 29 after which it got opened only for a week earlier this month, to deliver the results of an exam held earlier, but closed again.
“Due to ongoing administrative problem, all classes at Tehatta High School are hereby suspended until further orders,” says a notice on the gate, dated November 29.
“There have been a number of scuffles between us and some Muslim boys over the past few months… We have always celebrated Saraswati Puja because Saraswati is the Goddess of learning… They told us if you don’t let us celebrate Nabi Diwas, we won’t let you celebrate Saraswati Puja,’’ said Prakash Mali, 16.
“My Class X board exams are coming up and I haven’t been able to get my admit card. Our classes are suspended. What are we going to do? Some of us have tried to get admission in other schools, but they won’t take us because they have heard about the trouble here,’’ said his sister, Moushumi Mali, 17.
Moidun Koel, 24, an alumnus of the Tehatta High School who is now a volunteer with the civil police, said the students were not always so divided.
“We used to participate in the Saraswati Puja as well. All the students would come with their friends and relatives, and there would be a grand feast. The idol was brought with much fanfare, and Muslim boys would help as well… I remember when I was in Class X, I helped to organise the food,’’ he said.
In fact, residents belonging to both the communities take part in the annual rath yatra — the “rath ghar” lies just in front of the school.
“They had asked the headmaster, who gave his nod. However, after they put up the flag, it was taken off and thrown aside. So they got angry. They said if the headmaster had denied permission, they would not have done it. They just wanted to celebrate for one hour on November 28. For the past 15 years, we have been asking them to let us celebrate Nabi Diwas in school,’’ Koel said about his fellow Muslim school mates.
“I believe that outsiders are trying to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of our village. One house in the area put up Bajrang Dal flags,’’ claimed Koel.
Police expect riots tomorrow as well. “There were more adults in the protest than students. Howver, 14 protesters were detained today. There were 50-100 students, but as many as 300 adults,’’ said SP Howrah (Rural) Sumit Kumar.