The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ganesh Bandana in textbook stirs storm

Calcutta, Aug. 21: The latest edition of Kishalay (part IV), prescribed and published by an agency of the “secular” state government, has incurred the wrath of a large section of minorities.

The book asks teachers and students to recite (like a panchali) lines of Ganesh Bandana that are accompanied by pictures of Hindu deities.

The book is read by more than a million school-goers, many of them from religions that do not recognise Ganesh or Hara (Lord Shiv) or Gauri (Goddess Durga) as entities to whom they should pay their obeisance.

The chapter in which the “offensive” lines occur is devoted to Chhou, a tribal dance-form that has over the years picked up many Hindu mores.

About 14 lakh Class IV students study the chapter across the state and the book has kicked up enough dust to force the authorities to discuss “developments”.

“We have received reports from some quarters expressing misgivings about the intent of the chapter and, particularly, the lines that comprise Ganesh Bandana,” West Bengal Board of Primary Education secretary Swapan Sarkar said. “We have discussed the issue thread-bare and would like to clarify that the only intention of the board was to make Bengal’s students aware of their culture,” he added.

The minority community, however, is not convinced. The lines — beginning with “Prothome bandana kori Ganesh charan (first my obeisance at Ganesh’s feet)” and ending at “Sakal siddhidata Hara-Gaurir nandan” — are “absolutely against” the tenets of Islam and may end up pushing Muslim children, particularly those from the economically weaker sections, away from state-run schools.

“Muslims consider only Allah powerful enough to ensure success or failure,” editor of Qalam, one of the most widely-circulated news-magazines for Bengali Muslims, Ahmad Hassan Imran said. “Being asked to recognise Ganesh as the siddhidata (bestower of success) will definitely hurt their religious sentiments,” he added.

“Besides, the instruction to teachers to make students read the text aloud to the tune of a panchali will embarrass Muslim teachers as well,” said Imran. “This edition of Kishalay is otherwise very good (particularly the enlightening piece on Swami Vivekananda) but the primary education board could have selected something more secular than this chapter to acquaint students with their culture.”

“How would students from other religions feel if singing paeans to Allah became a part of the state-prescribed syllabus'” asked Imran.

Jamaat-e-Islam Hind state president Rahmat Ali Khan felt the text went against the Constitution, which forbids the state from promoting any religion. State Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind general secretary Siddiqullah Chaudhuri agreed. “This is an insidious attempt on the part of a ‘secular’ government to introduce idol worship,” he said, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the book in its present form.

But that would be difficult, said officials. “More than a million books have been printed and most have been circulated,” a school education department official said. “This will entail a logistics-defying exercise,” the official said but added at the same breath that the government had withdrawn two “controversial” textbooks (Anandapath and Matrichetana) some years back.

The primary education board secretary, however, felt that critics of the chapter on Chhou — woven around two friends, Mahim and Ratan — were unable to “appreciate” it. “This text was written by a panel of experts and we feel that their only intention was to popularise various facets of our culture,” said Sarkar.

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