Ravi Rajput is dismayed. The 35-year-old salesperson’s son attends the Florets International School in Kanpur. On August 2, Rajput had filed a police complaint against the school director for allegedly compelling students to recite Islamic prayers. The school has now been sealed by the local administration.
“The intention was never to shut the school down, only that the prayer stops,” said Rajput. “I never wanted my son’s education to suffer.”
He had managed to get his 11-year-old child re-admitted in school after the two years of the pandemic. It had not been easy for Rajput, who earns Rs 12,000 a month. “We had to cut down on our expenses,” he said. But it had to be done. “Online education is not the same as going to school, everyone knows that,” he said.
According to Rajput, he filed the police complaint on the request of Geeta Nigam, the Bharatiya Janata Party mahila morcha president in Kanpur. “I would not have gone to the police station myself to register a case,” he said.
Nigam confirmed to Scroll.in that she had called Rajput and told him to go to the police station “if he wanted”.
On August 2, the police filed an FIR based on Rajput’s complaint. The school’s managing director, Sumeet Makhija, has been booked under Section 295A – outraging religious feelings – and a section of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.
The complaint in the FIR alleged the school was involved in “shiksha jihad”. According to this relatively new conspiracy theory among Hindutva supremacists, education is being used as a means of Islamic indoctrination. “The school is sowing the seeds of conversion in our children,” the FIR elaborated.
The complaint cited in the FIR also demanded that the school be sealed. But Rajput now claims he never wanted that at all.
A tradition and a controversy
In an interview to local reporters, school principal Ankita Yadav explained the prayers of four religious faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian – were recited in the school. This was a tradition established when the school opened in 2003, she said. There had been no trouble – until now.
Nigam said a parent contacted her over the weekend telling her that the school’s prayer book contained Islamic prayers. The BJP leader soon started calling other parents – including Rajput – to confirm if all the prayer books contained the Islamic prayer.
Rajput said he was surprised. His son had attended the school before the pandemic, studying from Class 1 to Class 5, and he had not heard of Islamic prayers before. “My son never told me that they had to recite their [Islamic] prayers,” said Rajput. “I never observed anything suspicious about my son.”
Soon, Hindutva groups got involved. Shivam Dikshit, who has been the vice president of the Hindu Jagran Manch in Kanpur for the last six years and is also a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, got wind of the controversy.
“I got to know about the case from party workers who live around the school,” he said. “So I called for a meeting at the headquarters of the Hindu Jagran Manch on July 31. We gathered all the information and evidence.”
As the protest snowballed, the school messaged parents to say that from August 1 only the national anthem would be sung. But the matter did not die down.
As the school opened on Monday, BJP corporator Mahendra Nath Shukla turned up with “Gangajal” – holy water from the Ganges – to perform a ritual purification of the premises. Accompanied by members of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shukla vowed to keep protesting until the school apologised.
Dikshit, too, sent members of the youth wing of the Hindu Jagran Manch to protest at the school. Meanwhile, he got busy calling the police and district officials to get an FIR filed. “The school informed us that only the national anthem would be sung from Monday onwards but we wanted to be sure that something like this would never happen again,” he said.
That evening, the Hindutva groups marched to the local police station, accompanied by some of the parents, including Rajput. While the 35-year-old salesman is the main complainant, three other names are mentioned as aggrieved parties. These include two other parents – Manoj Chaturvedi and Deepu Tiwari, who is currently the BJP vice president in Kanpur district and has previously held posts in the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The fourth person named is Dikshit, who has no children attending Florets International. According to him, there is a conspiracy behind the multi faith prayers and the “mastermind” should be nabbed. “If this has gone on for so many years, we want to know how and why this happened. Who all were involved?” he demanded.
‘I cannot go against society’
Forty-year-old Chaturvedi said his son, a student of Class 3, had told him they recite the prayers of various religions. “I did not take much interest in the matter then,” he said.
But as the controversy grew, he began to feel uneasy. “We cannot live isolated from society,” Chaturvedi said. “So if there are protests we will have to be involved.”
However, he claims he was not present at the police station when the FIR was registered. Since people in the locality knew his name and number, they must have added them to the FIR, he speculated.
Chaturvedi said he worked as a salesman in a clothing market; rent from a few shops owned by his family supplemented this income. “It was not that easy for us to pay for the uniforms and fees – only to have him not go to school,” said Chaturvedi. Despite the controversy, he was not keen to send his son to another school.
‘If the school apologises, we will withdraw the case’
Tiwari, who has a daughter studying in Class 3 at Florets International, has no such financial worries. The 32-year-old BJP leader has a real estate and construction business in Kanpur.
As far as Tiwari was concerned, his daughter could find an education elsewhere. “What is more important is that you are converting my child by reciting the Islamic prayer,” he said.
But he was willing to strike a compromise with the school authorities. “They should come meet us, apologise, give it to us in writing that something like this will never be done again,” said Tiwari. “Then we do not mind giving the case up.”
He added that leaders from his party had asked local Hindutva supremacist groups to calm down because the owners of the school were Hindu. “We do not want the school owners or the students to suffer,” he said.
However, he needed reassurances that Islamic prayers would not be said again. While he had been party to the FIR, he was willing to settle the matter through a negotiated decision.