Patna: On November 27, Bihar’s education department released separate holiday calendars for general and Urdu schools for 2024. The move was aimed at accommodating the diverse religious practices of students in the state.
Instead of being perceived as an inclusive measure, the move created a controversy, with the Hindutva groups labelling it as a “communal narrative”.
The education department said that the calendars were released with a focus on “students’ convenience” and in alignment with the “underlying principles” of the general administration.
The state government customised the calendars so that they align with the respective religious preference of students belonging to the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Festivals like Ram Navami, Mahavir Jayanti, Samrat Ashok Jayanti, and Veer Kunwar Singh Jayanti fall during the summer vacation that will start from April 15 to May 15 in 2024. Typically, not all these festivals are consistently included in a standard calendar.
Festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Zoha, and Muharram are expected to fall on April 10, 11, 12; June 18,19,20; and July 17 and 18, respectively. These festivals always feature in the calendar.
Moreover, the 2023 and 2024 calendars have a total of 60 holidays.
After the education department issued the holiday calendars, social media – particularly Facebook – was flooded with reports saying that the government has curtailed the holidays related to Hindu festivals and increased the number of the holidays for the Muslims.
Several social media users suggested that this could be chief minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav’s strategy to “appease” the Muslims in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The Patna-based Hindi newspapers also echoed the same narrative, reporting that the holidays for the Muslim festivals have been increased, while those for the Hindus have been reduced.
One of the newspaper’s headline read: “Skoolon mein Shivaratri, Ram Navami, Janmasthmi, Rakhabandhan ki chhutti khatm; Eid, Muharram ki Barhi (Holidays of Shivratri, Ram Navami, Janamashtami Done Away With; More Holidays for Eid, Muharram.)”
A communal narrative
Leaders from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have alleged that the state government has hurt religious sentiments of the Hindu community, by preferring Muslims over Hindus. “It [the holiday calendar] is an effort to provoke the Hindus against the Muslims to garner the votes of the Muslim community. The government shouldn’t work with such communal intentions. Its communal intention won’t be tolerated. It will not lead to any electoral advantage for the party,” senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Sushil Kumar Modi, said.
In addition, social media was abuzz with countless articles and videos protesting the so-called “curtailment” of Hindu holidays and the “increase” in the number of Muslim holidays.
It appears that even the common people in Bihar, who have mobile phones, are discussing Nitish and Tejashwi’s preference of Muslims over Hindus.
Sources among school teachers told The Wire that they had personal grievances against the education department’s additional chief secretary, K.K. Pathak, a 1990 batch IAS officer, who, of late, has enforced stringent work ethics in the campuses.
He has extended the teachers’ period of stay in the school till 5 pm. He also monitors their attendance through software.
Moreover, he makes surprise inspections and takes immediate action against those violating the new rules. His stringent policies have also led to suspension of dozens of teachers and a reduction in their salary. Several teachers’ and employees’ bodies are up in arms against Pathak.
On November 29, the Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD) clarified that the number of holidays for the Hindu and Muslim festivals remains the same. “The 2023 holiday calendar for the schools had 60 holidays. The 2024 one too has 60 holidays,” Bihar’s information and public department minister, Sanjay Jha, tweeted.
जो लोग यह अफवाह फैला रहे थे कि बिहार सरकार ने स्कूलों में महाशिवरात्रि, जानकी नवमी, श्रीकृष्ण जन्माष्टमी जैसी छुट्टियां समाप्त कर दी है, वे संलग्न सूची देख कर अपनी जानकारी दुरुस्त कर लें।👇
बिहार सरकार के शिक्षा विभाग ने सामान्य और उर्दू स्कूलों के लिए वहां के अधिकतर… pic.twitter.com/N49Nh80fia
— Sanjay Kumar Jha (@SanjayJhaBihar) November 29, 2023
However, the BJP leaders are questioning the need for two separate calendars. “Why should there be two separate calendars for the schools; there should be uniformity with regard to the government schools,” an RSS leader said.
The RSS leader’s statement is seemingly misleading, as Hindus and Muslims traditionally rely on separate Panchang and Hijri calendars, respectively, to determine their religious events. The government follows these calendars for deciding the leaves on these holidays.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore.