A young boy studying in the Indian city of Bangalore has retracted into a shell and requires counseling after he was humiliated for being Muslim and ordered to recite a Hindu prayer.
Reportedly, the boy’s school adopted a couple of Sanskrit shlokas to serve as the official prayer for its morning assembly earlier this year. Last month, when the principal of the school caught Naushad Kashimji (name changed) and a few of his friends not reciting the prayer, she decided to humiliate and punish them for it.
“I was humiliated in front of 1,200 students and my constitutional right was violated. She made us go on stage and forced us to sing the prayer in front of everybody. She scolded me in front of everyone on the mike when I mispronounced a few Sanskrit words,” said the remarkably articulate Kashimji.
Shocked and outraged, Kashimji’s mother informed the Association for Protection of Civil Rights and together, they approached the school to lodge a complaint against the principal.
“The principal acted like she didn't understand what the fuss was all about. She kept saying that prayer was important to instill values and discipline in students. She just didn't understand when we tried to explain that we belong to a different faith,” Kashimji's mother told the media.
“What disturbed us most is that the principal suggested that the boy was turning into a fundamentalist Muslim. She also made snide remarks about the fact he was from Bhatkal (a Muslim dominated town in coastal Karnataka),” said R. Khaleemullah of the APCR.
However, the only thing that APCR managed to achieve after the horrifying incident was an exemption for Kashimji, who is now allowed to sit in class during the morning assembly.
“But that is not good enough. Why can't they go back to the old prayer, which had no religion in it? Fourteen of the 32 students in my class are Muslims. There are people from other religions too. At least 30% of the school is Muslim. Why should I sit separately?” he asked.
Kashimji, who also happens to be the head boy of his school, said that the incident had wounded his pride.
“I am on the school debate team and was elected as the head boy unanimously. I have studied here since I was in kindergarten. The teachers love me and my classmates respect me. I felt like all that was lost when I refused to sing the prayer that day,” he said. “I feel a little awkward now to discipline other students. They look at me as though I don't have the right anymore. Being the head boy makes me uncomfortable now.”
Kashimji shared how thankful he is to some of his Hindu friends, who have stood up for him several times since the humiliating incident took place on July 27. However, his mother informed the media that the 15-year-old’s badge, designating him as head boy of his school, was confiscated almost immediately after the incident and it has not been returned to him as yet. Kashimji’s parents also expressed their desire to take him to a counselor for having his depression treated, since he has started to keep to himself of late and spends most of his free time playing on the home computer instead of engaging in sports and other extracurricular activities at school.
One of the shlokas adopted by the school belongs to the Guru Gita from Skanda Purana while another is an invocation to the Hindu god Ganesh.
Speaking to the media, school principal Padmaja Menon said that the chosen shlokas might invoke Hindu gods like Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesh but their messages are truly universal.
“Brahma is the creator of the universe. What is wrong in invoking his name?” Menon asked.
Former school principal Jessy Joseph said that this development was very unfortunate, especially since students were never forced to recite Hindu prayers while she was in-charge. Other teachers at the school refused to opine on the incident.
In the meanwhile, Kashimji's family is hoping to take their fight further and get justice for the young boy.
“My two older children were also the students of the same school. It is a very good school and our family has been associated with it for the last 15 years. I am not going to let them get away with this divisive new policy,” said Kashimji's mother. “There is a reason we did not send our children to madrassas. We wanted them to get a secular education.”
Photo Credits: DOAM