On Tuesday, the headmaster of a government-run primary school in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit district was suspended because the students in his school had sung the song Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua as part of their morning prayers. The suspension was ordered by the District Magistrate, acting on a complaint filed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The head of the local unit of the Hindutva organisation said that the complaint had been filed because the song is a “madrasa prayer” and the headmaster’s decision to allow it to be sung was “anti-national”.

The district magistrate, on his part, explained the suspension by saying that the headmaster had made the students sing a “religious prayer” instead of the national anthem. This is an offence, he said, because he should have obtained government permission.

Both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the district magistrate have it wrong. Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua, also known as Bachche Ki Dua, was a poem written for children in 1902 by Muhammad Iqbal, the literary figure who is credited with having inspired the movement that eventually led to the creation of Pakistan. Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua is not a prayer sung exclusively in madrasas. In fact, it is a very popular prayer song in schools across India, including several prominent institutions.

The lyrics of the song make it clear that it is a dua or prayer seeking protection from evil. It asks god to light up the darkness in the world through the light in one’s own life. There is a line that includes the word “watan” or homeland:

Ho mere dam se yunhi mere watan ki zeenat
Jis tarha phool se hoti hai chaman ki zeenat

May my homeland through me attain elegance,
Just as a garden attains elegance through its flowers.

Iqbal wrote the poem around in 1902, just before he composed the patriotic songs Saare Jahan Se Achcha (1904), and Hindustani Bachchon ka Qaumi Git (1905). This was a period in which he was an ardent Indian nationalist. It is clear that the word “watan” refers to India. It is laughable to describe the songs as “anti-national”.

No religious connotations

Besides, the song does not carry any religious connotations. Only someone with a mind warped enough to associate Urdu with a specific religion could believe that Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua is a “religious prayer”. Ironically, Lab Pe Aati Hai Duadua is a part of the Uttar Pradesh government’s prescribed Urdu syllabus for classes I to VIII. It has been sung at the school in Pilibhit since 2011 without any objections.

The suspended headmaster, Furqan Ali, has been forced to reiterate that his administration of the school is unbiased. As evidence of this, he has noted that his students sing the national anthem every day and chant “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India). In addition to the Iqbal poem, they also sing the Saraswati Vandana, the mantra to the Hindu goddess of knowledge and the arts.

The only reason for Ali’s suspension would seem to be that his students had sung a poem written by Iqbal. If this reasoning is taken to its logical conclusion, every song written by Iqbal could be labelled “anti-national” and “religious”. This would include Saare Jahan Se Accha which is performed routinely at Independence Day and Republic Day parades. It is yet another example of the absurd patriotic tests that India’s Muslims now face routinely.