The fate of 4,500 students of a prominent school in the heart of Srinagar seems uncertain, with the authorities deciding to prolong the summer vacations following tension over the insistence of a teacher to wear the “abaya”, a traditional Islamic dress for women. The management deferred the Monday re-opening of the school fearing a breakdown of law and order in the area over the advice to the teacher to report in an “acceptable” dress.
Vijay Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit and a prominent figure in the Kashmir Valley, who is the chairman of the Delhi Public School in Srinagar, apparently made several attempts to placate the agitated woman teacher. Others too tried to explain to her that the school expected its students and teachers to follow a certain decorum. However, on not being able to get a satisfactory assurance, Dhar issued instructions for prolonging the vacation and left for an unknown foreign destination.
The DPS Srinagar is one of the most well known educational institutions in Jammu and Kashmir and aims at replicating the high standards followed by schools run by DPS Society in over a hundred locations in India and abroad. The school authorities are apprehending trouble since hard-line elements in the state are determined to make an issue of the denial of permission to a woman teacher to wear the traditional dress mostly worn by women in Arabic countries and in North Africa.
The authorities are apprehending that fundamentalists may now prevent the smooth functioning of the school in a state where several well known institutions had to close down during the rise of militancy. Old timers recall that nearly 50 years ago, the Presentation Convent School in Srinagar was burnt down by extremists who felt uncomfortable with the idea of a Christian missionary school in the state. The DPS Srinagar’s management comprises Kashmiri Pandits.
A member of DPS Srinagar, requesting anonymity, said, “The school is closed now and will not open on Monday. After the controversy that happened in the school, loose statements were made by some extreme thinking people, following which the school was closed and the management is yet to decide on the reopening of the school.”
V.K. Shunglu, chairman of the Delhi Public School Society in New Delhi declined to comment on the issue stating that he does not speak to the media.
Some parents and teachers from the parent-teachers’ body of the school, also confirmed that there was an element of uncertainty over the reopening of the school. “The school management has not yet communicated to us on the date of the reopening of the school,” one of them stated.
Narendra Kumar, former chairman of DPS Society told The Sunday Guardian, “It is a sad thing that a school like DPS has been forced to shut down by some elements who are not healthy for the society. The school has teachers and students from all communities and I think educational institutions should be left out of local politics.”
Kumar also expressed his anguish over this incident saying, “I do not understand that why such incidents should occur in the first place. It is bizarre. This harms the psyche of the students who are the future of the nation. When this school was opened, it was like a dream come true for the then Chief Minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Sahib. Now an institution like this has to face the wrath of extremists.”
The state BJP president, Sat Sharma told The Sunday Guardian, “DPS Srinagar is a great school and it is not yet shut down. Some elements have allegedly threatened the school asking it to shut down. Institutions like these should be kept out of politics. A threat from some elements will not shut down the school. We have spoken to the government and adequate measures will be taken to provide security to the school.”
Sajjad Gani Lone, a senior Kashmiri leader and MLA from the People’s Conference told this newspaper, “A school like DPS, which has been imparting education to thousands of students, cannot be shut down because some elements have threatened the institution. No extremists are above the law of the land and the government here will take due measures to ensure the safety of the school.”