Parents of 47 girl students of a minority school in Indore have alleged that the students were made to sit separately outside classrooms during a board examination because of their religion, a charge denied by the district administration which claimed the decision was taken as they resided in COVID-19 containment areas.
The girls of the school run by the Islamia Karimia Society, who mainly come from economically-weaker families, took the Class 12 book-keeping examination at the Bengali High School in Indore on June 9 while being seated on benches and tables set on a cultural dais.
In a video taken by a parent that went viral on social media, parents outside the school gate continued protesting against the centre’s officials. “Why are you making them sit outside? Make them sit inside according to their roll numbers,” a parent shouted.
Describing the incident as unfortunate, Bhopal Central MLA Arif Masood wrote to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, “If divisions of hatred are created in places which should teach lessons of communal harmony, then it is difficult to say where it would take the State.”
If the school didn’t have enough seating arrangement inside classrooms, why was it made a centre in the first place, asked Aminul Khan Suri, Indore-based spokesman for the Congress.
Mr. Suri further pointed out no student from two other schools, having the same centre, was made to sit separately like this. “When the pandemic is exploding in Indore, how is it possible that no one else except Muslim students from one school came from containment areas. Students have impressionable minds, and they will invariably think because they belong to a certain religion, they were made to sit separately outside and discriminated against.”
Meanwhile, Halim Khan, secretary of the society, said the district administration had asked schools to prepare a list of students residing in containment areas, to be sent to examination centres, so that they could be made to sit separately. “Some parents felt their children were being discriminated against, which is untrue. We have asked the government to at least let them sit inside classrooms even if a separate seating arrangement is to be made,” he said.
The circular, a WhatsApp message with an attached online form, was sent to Indore schools saying: “Schools affiliated to the Madhya Pradesh Board of Secondary Education, Bhopal, whose students are taking Class 12 examinations must mandatorily fill this form… In this, names of such students, their roll numbers, etc must be entered who reside in containment areas designated by the district administration.”
Stating that no such direction had been issued from the Board, State Exam Controller Balwant Verma said, “We can’t make anyone sit separately like this and discriminate against them. We haven’t issued any such controversial decision.”
Mr. Verma stated instructions for the conduct of examinations were repeatedly given to district authorities. “Any student showing COVID-like symptoms will be made to sit in an isolation room and be allowed to take the examination. For those who have tested positive, a re-examination will be conducted later. Nothing more,” he clarified.
While confirming the containment area list was called from schools, Rajendra Makwani, Indore District Education Officer, said, “This is our own initiative. During the book keeping examination we had close to 22,000 students at 131 centres in Indore. Where earlier 500 students could sit, not more than 100-150 can sit now while observing physical distancing. So, we had to use verandas and cultural stages to make students sit. We provided them with seats and tables.”
Stating that centres only knew students’ roll numbers, he said, “We seat them based on roll numbers besides which we don’t have no idea of their identities, including names. So there is no question of a separate seating arrangement based on religion.”