In what is being seen as an assault on religious freedom, the management of an admittedly secular school in Chennai has suspended a teacher for reciting Hindu prayers during assembly.
Abirami, a chemistry teacher of the State Bank of India Officers' Association Educational Trust School (SBIOA), recited the prayers in the school assembly on March 13, 2012 hoping to inspire the 330 students who were about to write the chemistry paper in the public examination.
"I recited the lines Om Mathru Devo Bhava, Om Pitru Devo Bhava, Om Acharya Devo Bhava, Om Vighneswaraya Namaha, Om Neela Saraswathiye Namaha which was repeated by the students. But before they could reach the stanza Om Vighneswaraya Namaha, school's vice- principal Jayanti Sundar, a Christian who is also an evangelist, switched off the mike. I told her that prayers were not yet over and continued reciting the full prayer when she pushed me aside and asked another Christian teacher to lead the prayers. They put me under suspension on that day itself on charges of physically assaulting the vice-principal in front of the school students," Abirami told The Pioneer.
She said that though the school was launched by the State Bank of India Officers Association, it has turned out to be a Christian management school. "Only Christian prayers are allowed in the school assembly though majority of the students are from the Hindu community. It was only on the day of the chemistry examination that I took part in the school assembly and recited the prayer. My intention was to recite prayers for the benefit of students belonging to all religions," said Abirami.
Though she has been under suspension for the entire academic year 2012, the management is yet to complete the disciplinary proceedings which in itself are a violation of education department rules. "The internal disciplinary proceedings against her are under progress. Ours is a secular school and all the charges levelled against us are baseless. Abirami is trying to divert the attention of the general public by inciting religious sentiments," PC Selvarani, the school principal, said. She alleged that Abirami was trying to spoil the minds of the students. But she refused to divulge the reasons behind the suspension and disciplinary proceedings against Abirami.
Students who took part in the March 13 school assembly said Abirami did not in any way violate the school discipline. "Abirami offered prayers for all religions equally. While she was offering the prayers, vice-principal Jayanthi Sunder tried to snatch the microphone from her hands. Consequently, Abirami resisted this act and did not force Jayanthi Sunder physically in any form. I could deduce no reason for her suspension," said S Vidhyalakshmi, a student who was present in the assembly on the fateful day.
Some of the students backed Abirami's claim that only Christian prayers are recited in the school assembly everyday. "Only Christian teachers are allowed to lead the assembly and recite the prayers. This has baffled us," one of the students who did not want to be quoted said.
B Haran, a political commentator, described as outrageous the action of the school authorities. "This is a classic case of minorities serving their religion wherever they are. They infiltrate a secular institution, take control of management and convert it into a minority institution. This is what has happened exactly in this case. The SBOA is now controlled by the Church. That is Indian Secularism for you," said Haran.
V Sundaram, all India general secretary (ideology), Janata Party, called the bluff on the school management. A former IAS officer withy more than three decades of administrative experience, Sundaram termed the action of the school management as a violation of the freedom of religion. "If we interpret true secularism, the court itself can take suo moto note of the news and initiate action against the school," he said.
Hindus and Muslims are hurt by the school management's action, if comments on the social networking websites are any indication.
Though Abirami approached the chairman of the CBSE and the Chief Minister's cell with her grievances, she is yet to get an acknowledgement.