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Wham! What an honour, Sir
Holiday in the name of tireless scholar

Bengal has declared Wednesday a holiday in Madhyamik schools in honour of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, adding to an already long list of lost days in a state where the chief minister sings the change chant and professes to champion work culture.

Vidyasagar (sea of learning) may have been the personification of hard work but the Mamata Banerjee government thinks the best way to honour the man is by shutting down schools for a day.

“We want to honour Vidyasagar. So all schools (around 14,000) under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education will remain closed on September 26, his 192nd birth anniversary,” board secretary Santi Prasad Sinha announced on Tuesday.

Schools under the Delhi boards do not come under the ambit of the holiday circular.

The announcement of an unexpected day off from school would have brought joy to thousands of students familiar with Vidyasagar’s Barnaparichay, the book that teaches the Bengali alphabet to beginners.

But many feel such holidays are a disservice to children rather than a show of respect to icons such as Vidyasagar, who would have wanted young Bengal to emulate his philosophy of toil instead of enjoying a day off in his name.

“Vidyasagar’s quest for knowledge was intense and he spared no effort to achieve it. Declaring a holiday cannot be the right way to show our respect towards someone like Vidyasagar,” said Swapan Basu, a former general secretary of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad and scholar of the history and literature of 19th Century Bengal.

Born Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay in 1820, Vidyasagar had studied under gas-lit street lamps. As the principal of Sanskrit College, he is said to have never skipped work for any reason throughout his tenure from 1851 to 1855.

“It is true that the young need to be familiarised with the relevance and importance of great men like Vidyasagar. But declaring a holiday on his birthday defeats the purpose of enlightening students about Vidyasagar’s contributions and perseverance,” said a teacher from the erstwhile Presidency College.

Most schools used to commemorate September 26 through programmes. Now, birth and death anniversaries of the greats of Bengal are not only commemorated at Writers’ but also through unscheduled holidays.

Last year, the government declared Rabindranath Tagore’s death anniversary a holiday because his birth anniversary had passed by the time the new government came to power. Schools were declared closed even the day after the poet’s death anniversary (Baishey Shraban) because the chief minister thought the children would be too tired after the programmes the previous day.

This year, schools lost seven days when heat forced the government to advance the summer vacation by nearly a week.

The board rulebook stipulates not more than 65 holidays a year. But according to sources in the education department, the numbers are “slightly adjustable” with weekends being suitably added or subtracted from the calendar.

“The holiday list for 2012 was drawn up at the beginning of the academic session in January,” an official said.

He claimed the government hadn’t sent any written instruction to the board on declaring Vidyasagar’s birth anniversary a holiday. But sources said such a decision couldn’t have been taken without a green signal from the top.

Vidyasagar’s birth anniversary is not the only new holiday on the school calendar. Nazrul Islam, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray and Swami Vivekananda are also on the list. Nazrul’s birth anniversary fell within the summer vacation and Ray’s coincided with Rakhi Purnima, another public holiday.