Controversy Over Saraswati Puja At A Bengal School

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A section of students had objected to the celebration of Saraswati Puja at Tehatta high school.


Tehata, West Bengal:  Schools across Bengal celebrated the traditional festival of Saraswati Puja this year. But the recent communal tensions in Dhulagarh cast its shadow on Tehatta high school, where the puja became a matter of contention between two sections of students. After the school refused to allow a function on the Prophet's birthday, known as Nabi Diwas, a section of students had objected to the celebration of Saraswati Puja.

Head master Utpal Mallik resigned over the controversy and on Tuesday, a group of students who blocked the National Highway 6 for three hours got caught in mob violence and police lathi-charge. Tehatta, 40 km from Kolkata, is 10-odd km away from Dhulagarh, which witnessed communal clashes since the Prophet's birthday on December 12. There has been a tension in the area since.

Yesterday, on the day of the puja, a huge police force was deployed in front of the school. A group that tried to approach the school with an idol of Saraswati, were stopped. In surrounding areas -- Basudevpur and Khalishani - the puja was held under the watchful eyes of the police. An elderly Muslim man living near the school said, "I have never seen anything like this in this area before."

"We have been deputed to the Khalishani Jatiya Vidyapeeth by the Uluberia police station. There is some tension there because of the Tehatta school," said Santanu Roy, a civic volunteer, as scores of young students streamed into the school to worship the idol of Saraswati.

"It is unfortunate," said assistant headmaster Gaurav Das. "But because of the road block, because of the tensions at Tehatta, there is no option."  Regarding the demand of celebrating both or none festivals, he said, "The government should take a decision," he said.

One decision the government did take was to shut the school down on Sunday for an indefinite period to calm the tensions.

The Tehatta High School is 64 years old and is aided by the government. Apparently, it has always celebrated Saraswati Puja. Some students claimed even Nabi Diwas had been celebrated a few times in the past. There was no independent confirmation of either claim.


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