West Bengal says no to govt’s Independence Day celebrations format

The Bengal government has ordered schools to desist from following the Centre’s circular, that has prescribed a set format for Independence Day celebrations this year.

The ministry of human resource development had issued a circular on August 7, asking schools to organise a set of programmes revolving around Independence Day.

Mamata Banerjee

Four days later, on Friday, the West Bengal Sarva Shiksha Mission department issued a circular, asking schools to stop preparations for celebrating Independence Day in the manner suggested by MHRD. Instead asked to carry on with their usual mode of celebrating the occasion like every year.

“The feeling of patriotism cannot be forced down someone. It is a sentiment that is already there in all Indians. Schools in Bengal celebrate Independence Day every year by hoisting flags and holding various programmes. This year, too, they shall follow the usual practice,” state education minister Partha Chatterjee said, adding that, in Bengal, it was not only schools that celebrated Independence Day. “We have celebrations in offices, factories, industrial units and even in neighbourhoods and households,” Chatterjee said.

The MHRD circular asked every school to arrange a “Sankalp programme” from August 9 to August 30 near “Shaheed Smaraks” – constructed as memorials to freedom struggle or war martyrs or those who have fallen to terrorism – or on school campuses. Schools should also have an oath-taking ceremony, where all teachers and students would have to vow to rid the country of the five problems of poverty, corruption, terrorism, communalism and casteism by 2022, when the nation would be celebrating 75 years of freedom.

“The ministry sent us a copy of the oath. This was supposed to be followed by a speech by a teacher or a guest and a student on how to rid our country of these vices,” a teacher of a city school said. Besides, schools would have to hold quizzes and painting competitions, where the theme would be India’s freedom movement, she added.

Now, however, everything looks like going back to the usual routine that schools have followed down the years. A senior Bengal school education department official said the state government was forced into issuing the counter-circular to preempt attempts by the BJP-led central government to “force patriotic sentiments down people’s throats when it already existed in their minds”.

“There was absolutely no need to issue the new circular on August 7. Schools have been celebrating the occasion with a lot of spontaneity and enthusiasm since 1947. What does the centre want to say, that we have been celebrating Independence Day wrongly all these years, or schools have not been celebrating this day till the BJP came to power?” the official asked.

A senior MHRD official, however, said the August-7 notice was just a suggestion to state governments and there was no compulsion to follow the instructions.
The BJP, too, protested against the state’s propensity to just oppose for the sake of opposition. “We will hold a press conference on Sunday. The Mamata Banerjee government has a tendency not to follow the centre,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said.

Educationists, however, have taken a dim view of the controversy. “It is the duty of students of every school to celebrate Independence Day. But students should do it in their own way. There should not be any directive. Schools and colleges anyway celebrate the occasion. Now it appears that the central government is trying to make the celebrations mandatory and the state government is issuing another directive, saying it should not be mandatory. I believe both are wrong. An education institution is a social association and, in a democracy, a social institution cannot be dictated by political masters,” former Presidency College principal and educationist Amal Mukhopadhyay said.

PTI

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