For years, more than 500 government schools in Bihar’s Seemanchal area, which has a sizable Muslim population, have been observing Friday as their weekly off instead of Sunday, despite no official mandate to that effect. This practice has been followed by the schools located in the eastern part of Bihar which include districts of Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar, and Purnia
According to the 2011 Census, the eastern part of Bihar has a Muslim population varying from 30 percent to 70 percent. The Jokihat block of the Araria district houses most of these schools, with 229 out of 244 government schools having their weekly break on Friday. Confirming the figures, Shiv Narayan Suman, the Jokihat block education officer (BEO) said that observing weekly off on Fridays is a very old practice in the region.
Meanwhile, Araria district education officer (DEO) Raj Kumar while speaking to Hindustan Times said, “Almost all the schools falling under Jokihat block are closed on Friday. There is no government directive though to this effect”. Purnia has 200 such government schools whereas Kishanganj has 19. While education authorities claimed ignorance of any government edict demanding weekly Friday leave, teachers believe the practice began nearly a decade ago on the orders of local Muslim leaders.
“In 2014, JD-U leader Mahmood Asraf (now deceased) forced the government schools in his Meenapur panchayat under Baisi block of Purnia district to shift the weekly off from Sunday to Friday,” a government school teacher was quoted who also added that the officials of the education department never opposed the proposal.
While Kishanganj DEO Subhash Kumar Gupta joined Araria district DEO in claiming that observing weekly offs on Friday was a usual practice in Bihar despite no official mandate to that effect, Mumtaz Ahmad, block education officer (BEO) of Balrampur stated that the Bihar government had issued a letter in this regard in 2010 and since then these schools have declared Friday off.
However, Bihar’s education minister, Vijay Kumar Chowdhary, seemed to be unaware of the situation. “Once we receive formal notice from the district involved,” he continued, “We’ll respond by the applicable procedures.” Also, BJP opposed the observance of weekly off on Friday and said that rules suitable to one religion cannot be allowed as per the Constitution.
“India is a secular country and making rules to suit one’s religion is not permissible under the Constitution. If the schools are closed on Friday to suit Muslims, Hindus may demand to close the schools on Tuesday. This kind of practice should not be promoted for religious appeasement,” said BJP state spokesperson Nikhil Anand.
Some Jharkhand government schools have lately been in the news for similar Islamisation as the schools in Bihar. Several state-run schools were reported to have made changes in response to the demands of the local Muslim community. Schools in districts of Jamtara and Dumka were discovered to be having weekly offs on Fridays instead of Sundays.
Notably, Arabs in the middle east are slowly transitioning from Friday as the weekend to Sunday as the weekend, however, the situation is totally opposite in some Indian states.