Published: 26th November 2018
Gujarat parents fret as board exam form singles out Muslim students
The 17.5 lakh students’ parents who came to know of the discrepancy fear it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Gujarat government to collect data on Muslim students
Gujarat government's online form for their Class X and XII Board examinations, conducted by Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (GSHSEB), is allegedly trying to single out Muslim students. Under the category of 'Minority Type', the form gives the students two options to choose from — ‘Muslim’ and ‘Others’. This stands out as Gujarat is home to Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains as well.
The 17.5 lakh students’ parents who came to know of the discrepancy fear it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Gujarat government to collect data on Muslim students. A student’s father who wanted to remain anonymous told the Ahmedabad Mirror, “The forms are usually filled by the school administration. I came to know after I went to school to fill up my child’s form and saw that they had asked if we belong to the minority. When we clicked on “yes”, it offered two options: 'Muslims or Others'. This left me wondering if the data gathered from online forms could be misused for something else. This has raised fear in me.”
An Ahmedabad-based Muslim restauranteur, whose son is appearing for his Class XII examinations, told the Ahmedabad Mirror, “I am scared. Before 2002, a similar exercise was initiated by the Gujarat government where every police station was asked to identify Muslim businesses in their locality. My restaurant was singled out and burnt. It was revealed that rioters had used the census collected by the government and police. I am scared for my son now. Why is Gujarat government keen to know if the student is Muslim or not. What is the purpose?”
GSHEB chairman AJ Shah said that the same form had been in place since 2013. “I have seen this form in this format for past two years. There are other questions that seeks student’s information including whether s/he is differently abled. So far, nobody has complained to me about details of Muslim students,” he said
School principals of at least two minority schools located in Jamalpur and Danilimda areas of Ahmedabad said that this data collection that singles out Muslims has sent a wrong signal to students. Seema Nermeti, principal of Shama School categorically told Mirror, “This is shocking. The Gujarat government has already faced a lot of criticism for its treatment of Muslims in the recent past. Now, cornering Muslim students like this is the final straw on the camel’s back. If the Board wants to ask students which minority community they belong to, they should seek information from students belonging to other minority communities like Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, too. Why just single out Muslims?”
Principal of F D School for Girls, Anisa Shaikh, feels that the Board should expand its perspective. The options must have been in this format since the time online system was started, she said, adding, “The forms are usually filled up by clerks in office and we just get printouts filled with all choices. This year is first time that we came to know about it. Is it an effort to gather data from various minorities? In such a case, why have they not offered options for other religious or linguistic minorities as well?”
She claimed, “The government and the Board cannot get away by claiming they were unaware of the issue, or that their outsourcing agency goofed up. Such flimsy excuses have become the norm.” Principal Sheikh demanded that the existing malady be immediately addressed by the Gujarat government.
Professor Navdeep Mathur of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, feels this is 'scary'. “The Board’s purpose of asking this question is not clear. If it wishes to gather details, it should do so for all religious minorities and other minorities present in India. Gujarat is not a closed state and has students from all pockets of India. Why just mark-out Muslims alone?” he asked.
Political observer Ghanshyam Shah said, “It is dangerous. By asking such a question, they make students conscious of being a Muslim. Our Constitution talks about secularism and board is making them conscious of their caste and community. This is against the Constitution. This may isolate Muslims. If this is for any scholarship, it is understood but why ask such a question to Board students? Secondly, the then CM and now PM Narendra Modi had informed Sachar Committee that they do not differentiate between majority and minority. And his the government run by his party is differentiating between them.”
Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani called the action unconstitutional as the Constitution does not allow any discrimination on basis of religion. “The BJP can’t be trusted to put that data to any good, and thus, this gathering of data is also extremely worrisome. Moreover, it is very disgusting that they are reaping such divisive seeds in young minds. This action of the government is extremely disturbing and should be immediately rescinded,” said the young MLA.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel said, “On one hand, BJP talks about nationalism and, on the other hand, it is show-casing its divisive nature. It is shocking that the BJP government is asking Muslim students to identify their religion. The BJP must treat all citizens equally and not discriminate on the basis of religion. It is the government, not the education department, which is at the helm of such divisive conspiracies.”