New Delhi: Ten-year-old Aman, a fifth standard student, was standing at the gate of his municipal school in Wazirabad with his friend Nishant. They were 45 minutes early. Their school didn’t start until 1 pm.
With time, a group of chatty children had gathered at the cart of treats near the main gate and started talking about their ‘principal’. “One day, he made all of us stand and said ‘Muslim students raise your hands’,” Aman said. “He then separated all of us.”
Aman’s school, a North Delhi Municipal Corporation school in Gully Number 9 of Wazirabad, made it to the front page of a national newspaper on Wednesday. The school in charge, CB Singh Sehrawat, it was found, had segregated students based on their religion.
All Hindu children were grouped in separate sections and Muslim children in the others.
Once the Delhi government and municipal officials learnt about it, Sehrawat was promptly suspended. Authorities dissolved the segregated sections on Thursday and initiated an official inquiry into the matter. The children who had not come to school on Friday, were still not sure what had happened or where they would sit today.
“Is ‘principal’ sir in jail?”
“No, he is only suspended.”
“So he will be back?”
Nishant, also aged ten, said the religious segregation had begun a few months ago after Sehrawat took charge in July. “He said he was doing it because Hindu and Muslims fight,” Nishant said. His friend Danish, a Muslim, was moved to another section.
From 7.30 in the morning to 12.30 in the afternoon, the municipal school is open for girls. Boys are taught in the ‘second shift’ which lasts from 1 pm to 6 pm. Both shifts have separate teachers.
The girls’ shift was like any normal school. The religious segregation was in practice only for the boys’ shift. The teachers from the first shift claim they did not know a thing about what was going on in school after their time. Even parents of girl students say they only came to know when the matter became news.
Irshad Hussain’s daughter studies in second standard of the school. He did not know the school transformed every day after he picked up his daughter at 12.30 pm. “I didn’t have a clue. After everyone got to know a couple of days ago, I asked my elder daughter who studies in eighth standard of a different school. She said it was true. Her friend her told this,” said Hussain.
Some of the boys’ parents did not know either. Ajit Thapa’s son never told him about the practice. “I did not know this was happening at the school. If it did happen, it was wrong. Children should be together and equal. The school should concentrate on raising the quality of education,” Thapa said.
Aman said some of the students had gone back home and told their parents. “Some parents came and asked sir why he had done that. He said he was the head teacher and he would teach how he wanted,” Aman said.
Those who talked to News18 also said Sehrawat’s conduct fell far short of what was expected of a school teacher. Students said Sehrawat handed out corporeal punishment and used abusive language. “Sir hit students often and used bad language. He smoked Beedi inside school premises,” alleged one student.
A teacher at the school, speaking under conditions of anonymity, said other teachers were scared of Sehrawat, who often pulled rank. “He used to shout and get aggressive regularly. That’s why we feared talking to him about it. He thought whatever he did was right,” the teacher said.
When other teachers raised concerns about separating students over their religion, Sehrawat said it was his decision was none of their concern. “We are junior teachers. We could not say much,” the teacher said. “This should never have happened. This is India. Even a hard line communal person should not let this happen to children.”
Shakuntala, an Anganwadi worker in Wazirabad, also spoke of Sehrawat’s aggressive demeanour. “I was in election duty with him and I interacted with him then. His language was very rough and his thinking was regressive,” she said.
Shagufta, her co-worker at the Anganwadi, said her two sons studied at the municipal school a few years ago. “There was no such problem like this at the time. The principal then was a good man. When I heard they had separated Hindu and Muslim students, I came to check,” she said.
People who ran businesses and shops near the school said they did not know what went on in classes behind the closed main gate. Mohit Tyagi, an advocate and a Wazirabad resident, said municipal officials must know about the religious segregation. “We were outside, but these officials came to the school regularly for inspection. The School Managing Committee was also there. Are they saying they had no idea this was going on?” he asked.
Tyagi said the Municipal Councillor and even the Commissioner of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation had visited the school in the past. “These officials must be investigated too,” he said.
The Municipal Councillor from the region, Amar Lata Sangwan, said that though she had come to the school in the past few months for inspection, she did not know about the discriminatory and communal practice going on. “If the Nagar Nigam had known, this issue would not have reached this stage,” she said.
The councillor was at the school to check if the segregated sections had indeed been dissolved and ensure that the classes were homogeneous. “All corrective steps have been taken and the inquiry is going on. A new principal has been transferred to the school as well.”
Sangwan said there could be political motivations behind the entire issue. Did Sehrawat give a reason for his actions? “He just said that was his thinking,” said the councillor.