Ensure no ‘religious attire’ in classes, SDMC-run schools told

SDMC’s education panel chairperson issues instructions to prevent ‘religious attire’ in schools
Officials of South Delhi Municipal Corporation-run schools have been instructed to ensure that no students come to class wearing any “religious attire”.

The directions, issued by the civic body’s Education Committee chairperson Nitika Sharma (BJP) to the SDMC’s Director of Primary Education on Friday, have come following a controversy over a girl student being asked to remove her hijab by a teacher in a government school in north-east Delhi.

Speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Sharma, a councillor from Dwarka, said, “We do not want such incidents (hijab controversy) to take place elsewhere. The letter has been sent to the Director of Education (SDMC) and will be enforced. If a small girl is covered and sent to school, won’t that affect her confidence level and make her feel different? If they want to wear hijab and show their religion, then they should go to madrasas. We don’t want the children to feel unequal, and this (instructions) will be implemented without a resolution.”

When asked whether other religious attires, including turbans, will not be allowed, she said they will be permitted but refused to clarify further.

SDMC’s Director of Primary Education Pradeep Kumar, however, said the civic body has taken no decision to enforce these instructions in its schools.

“Such decisions cannot be implemented without a resolution being passed in the House, or without the Commissioner’s approval. Ms. Sharma’s views are her own, the department is not looking towards implementing any instructions on these lines.”

In Delhi, the municipal corporations run schools till primary level (Class V), unlike the Delhi government schools where students are taught till Class XII.

Principals unhappy
Speaking to The Hindu, principals and officials of various SDMC schools said they are yet to receive any instructions, adding that there were “no restrictions regarding religious attire over the years”.

“These instructions are a first in my career. Due to the pandemic, schooling has been disrupted for the last two years. We are trying to be lenient with students by even easing the requirement for a uniform. Our priority is to ensure that students return to school and do not miss out on their education,” said an SDMC school official.

Sharing similar views, an SDMC school principal said they do not want to “burden the students with a uniform”. He added, “There are no restrictions on wearing a headscarf or other religious attire. Nor do we have a problem if they wear it. These are little children, we can’t deny them access to education if they wear a particular religious attire.”

Responding to these observations, Ms. Sharma said “principals cannot run schools as per their wish” and the instructions are “aimed at preventing inequality in the classroom”.

“People in Delhi do not have a mindset similar to what happened in Karnataka [hijab controversy],” she said, in response to school officials expressing fear over the issue getting out of hand.

East Delhi Mayor Shyam Sunder Aggarwal and senior officials from North Delhi civic body said they will “not” be implementing similar restrictions.

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