DPS fuss: Don’t mix religion with education please


DPS, Srinagar is under a controversy regarding a female teacher who was asked to choose between an attire of clothing (abhaya) and her job from which she chose to resign rather than follow the code of conduct and rules and regulations of the school. I was reminded of my tenure there and now with my own ward studying in one of the most premier institutes of the country, I felt compelled to dispel the already snowballing myths around the whole fiasco.

When it started in 2003, DPS, Srinagar was dismissed as the new fad, the whimsical notions of one of the well-known families of Srinagar city but as the infrastructure unfolded and the hereto unknown orientation of teachers for sessions, classes and the teaching methodology began, it became clear the mission was one and one only – child-centric education to traumatised and underexposed children due to the conflict of years in the strife-torn Valley.

I remember the standards that DPS, Srinagar set for everything – the first fleet of privately owned buses, with the global yellow hue and first-aid kits; disaster management and fire safety drills, play-way methodology for primary classes, ban on corporal punishment, counselling sessions for deviant and delinquent students, workshops, all expenses paid exchange programmes to various other DPS franchises across the country, computer labs with one to one ratio, no child standing in the bus policy (which still exists), and many more child-centric rules.

It was exhaustive, back breaking work, and in the words of the management there, “we had to be on our toe-nails, not toes” to get cracking with the modern methods of teaching and diligently conducted examinations. I have never felt so proud in my life to see a workforce brought so up to date with the latest technologies, websites, typing methods, Hindi/Urdu fonts, the format of examination papers and the ethics of question papers not to be discussed in class.

Of course, there was cribbing and endless whines, hair-tearing, cussing and public fights among staff members, but gradually as year after year, our confidence and empowerment grew we saw what we had become – one of the elite teaching staff on par with an international one exhibiting our skills and talents on the national level. I remember the policy with the management – ‘you name it, you got it, as long as the children benefited’. Incentives were not based on qualifications but on the actual practical results and feedback from parents and students.

I have never been so scared and so elated at the same time in my life. That I was being monitored, watched, and accounted for and that there would be instantaneous encouragement and back pats too. It was the ultimate environment any committed, competitive, and sincere teacher could wish for. Of course, there were glitches, and there always were nefarious elements bent on raising communal, religious or unscientific issues. These were always the hypocrites who came there to pass the time, and would look for ways to bring in religion, the political conflict and sexism into the atmosphere. As the popularity and number of children began to grow, these elements began to get bolder.

They took the benefits of the school’s good economical package and yet worked against the school in various ways, either by taking up the malpractice of tuitions or by resorting to unethical means of inflating marks of favourite wards. As is the nature of our Kashmiri culture, these elements were shielded by the nepotism prevalent everywhere in our various institutions and got away with many things till they could. There was often swift action once the malpractices came to light, but more often than not the management has been flexible for humanitarian cases, notably low-income backgrounds, widows, and orphans. There were other things which were kept out of view in keeping with the Islamic philosophy of ‘neki kar, darya me daal’ and which I will not divulge out of respect.

All said and done, the Indian education system is far from perfect, far from secular. In the increasing clamour for the saffronisation of textbooks, and the various efforts to saffronize the syllabus, curriculum and educational philosophy of schools, we have seen head teachers, educationists and a lot of researchers resist the clarion call. This secularism kept in place by the various ‘missionary schools’, the ‘Arya Samaj’, and ‘Khalsa’ schools, has very strong foundations and I doubt they will be defeated by Hindutva forces. But these controversies such as the one mentioned above, where religion is being given precedence over education, is what will bring the house down if it does.

If religion is allowed to dictate the education system of the country, then it won’t be long before we go the Pakistan way, with madrasas training jihadis, and sanghis training fascists in their respective camps. A dress code is always in place in all educational institutions – professional decent attire in keeping with the dominant culture of the region. For females, kameez -salwar with dupatta is the norm in Kashmir Valley even for non-Muslims, but if anyone prefers to wear a sari, it is made clear that low cut blouses and revealing midriffs will not be allowed. Same goes for male teachers, where T-shirts and jeans are not allowed though I have seen the rule being disregarded many a time in the patriarchy-leaning school.

The rest is up to the conscience of the teachers in question, jingling jewellery, enticing perfumes or deodorants, dangling earrings were frowned upon and the more mature the teachers, the more one found them adhere to the unspoken code of conduct of appearing professional and presentable to students. There were always senior teachers who would gently steer the more hip and fashionable ones to not wear see-through clothes and the misdemeanour would instantly be remedied.

The growing radicalisation of the Valley did not spare the school and I saw the lectern being used to disseminate religious lectures rather than the secular and scientific knowledge. Students were sorted out and the invisible coercion of covering up (hijab) and sporting a beard was firmly addressed. I saw young men and women who had entered the institution with the zeal to teach, learn and facilitate knowledge become more ‘Islamised’ as things went south in the Valley especially after the 2010 ‘ragda’ agitation. There will be rantings of ‘there is no coercion’ in religion given for this but try and see yourself in the institution day-to-day.

Try and see the day-to-day of minority students who should be made to feel as part of the dominant culture. How does one do that? By integrating the knowledge of various cultures, religious philosophies and rituals in the curriculum of the school through assemblies, exhibitions, the celebration of festivals, and general camaraderie. That my own ward has started asking if the Hindu boy or Sikh child in his class is different or inferior from him shows what the unchecked nefariousness of those radical elements has borne fruit.

If we need the state to progress and come out of the darkness of the turmoil, we need to keep religion out of educational institutions. That any small thing can be whipped up for political gain is not a new thing for Kashmir and it will take one rumour, or one misinterpreted incident to flare up into a bloody uprising is a reality. As parents, the real stakeholders in the school, it is wiser to step back and see the whole incident for what it is – to bring down the perceived ‘Indianness’ of a premier institute in a Valley under siege from both sides – the state as well as radicals. Source: Times of India

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