A Delhi Minorities Commission letter forwarding a request to provide time for Friday prayers to Muslim teachers in primary schools has left Delhi Education Department in jitters and officials hiding behind technicalities.
The letter surfaces at a time when consolidation of votes in communal lines has taken a toll on the electoral prospects of political parties with secular credentials. On one hand, the act of supporting the Delhi Minorities Commission recommendation might be played as minority appeasement for votes by Opposition parties at the cost of school education to children, and on the other hand, opposing it might be construed as siding with majoritarian politics.
The letter addressed to the Education Department of Delhi and those of the Municipal Corporations of Delhi on 11 April came with the subject ‘Regarding permission to Muslim employees of Government of NCT of Delhi to offer Juma prayers between 1-2 pm on Friday of every week’.
The letter stated, “In this connection on the basis of this letter, the commission has desired for a detailed report. You are hereby requested for forward the detailed report in the aforementioned matter for consideration and further necessary action at the end of the Commission latest by 27 April 2018.”
“Few minutes were sought for Juma prayer so that the employees working in the government schools. But the Delhi Education Department has rejected the proposal saying that it has no such scheme and hence cannot allow it,” says Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission.
Khan informs that the municipal corporations of Delhi have not replied to the query yet. “If we do not get a proper reply we will approach the Delhi education minister who is the final authority to decide upon such matters,” he said.
The request for a detailed report was made after the Akhil Dilli Prathamik Shikshak Sangh appealed the Delhi Minorities Commission to take up the issue.
“In 1954, the Government of India issued a notification saying that Muslim employees could go for Juma prayers on Fridays. We have written a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs asking whether the said notification is still in force,” he said.
Significantly, many states in India followed the rule of allowing an interval up to a one hour to all the students and teachers in government schools on Fridays to allow Muslim students and teachers the required time for Juma prayers. One of such states is Assam in which one-third of the population constitutes Muslims.
Dinesh Das, a teacher in a primary school in Assam told Firstpost that though this rule was prevalent in Assam earlier, it has now ceased to exist.
The Delhi Government has been avoiding queries related to the letter issued by the Delhi Minorities Commission. In fact, according to sources, the Delhi government is using technicalities to side-step the question.
“The Minorities Commission has sought no response from the Delhi government. The Delhi Government has no role to play here,” a source in the state government said. The crux of the statement is that since the letter was addressed to the director of the Department of Education, so it should be deemed to have been sent to the Department of Education and not to the Government of Delhi.
The Delhi Minorities Commission letter has not gone down well with volunteers working in the field of education. Ashok Agarwal, a Delhi High Court advocate and also a child rights activist says that the government should take no such step which could hamper the education of children.
“It is the duty of the teachers to teach during school hours and nothing else. We cannot allow a train driver a fifteen minutes break for prayer while navigating a train. If we do so, we may invite a disaster. How can we do that with our education system?” he asks.
When asked about the issue Naginder Sharma, Media Advisor to the Chief Minister of Delhi said, “I am not aware of it.”