OBC woman performs Saraswati puja in college run by Muslims in Bengal’s Malda
Run by Muslims, a private college in Bengal’s Malda district on Wednesday hosted Saraswati Puja for the 13th time since its foundation even as students from a 60-year-old government-aided school in North-24 Parganas could not perform the puja which was stopped in 2009 under pressure from local people.
Muslims constitute more than 51 per cent of Malda’s population according to 2011 census.
“We have been holding Saraswati Puja ever since the college was set up in 2008,” said Farookh Hossein Khan, principal in charge of North Malda Teachers’ Education College. “My wife, Jahida Khatun, the president of the managing committee, is the driving force behind the puja,” said Khan.
The college is a self-financed institution with about 400 students. “Seventy per cent students are Hindus,” said Khan.
Marking a sharp departure from convention, the puja was performed not by a Brahmin but by a woman from the other backward class (OBC) community. “Sulata Mondal, who performed the puja, used to be my classmate in college. She underwent formal training for priests,” said Khan.
Interestingly, Mondal underwent training at camps organised by a far-Right Hindutva group, Singhabahini that ran into controversy several times in the past. “For us it is a matter of pride that Mondal performed the puja,” said Devdutta Maji, head of Singhabahini.
Most of the guests at the puja were members of the Salthal, Kurmi and other tribal communities. “About 10 sq km area around our college primarily has tribal population. More than 500 people from these villages had lunch and prasad (food offered to the goddess),” said Khan.
In sharp contrast to the puja at the Malda college, students at the government-aided Chauhata Adarsha Vidyapith in the Haroa area of Basirhat in North-24 Parganas district were not allowed to perform the puja. They held an agitation outside the school on Wednesday.
HT reported on Sunday that some students were allegedly beaten up by locals on January 24 when they staged a roadblock, demanding that Saraswati puja be resumed at the school.
The protesting students included girls and many boys from the junior section. The puja was stopped, allegedly under pressure from local people, in 2009, the year Chauhata Adarsha Vidyapith turned 50. About 75% of the 1700-odd students are Muslims while most of the teachers are Hindus.
On Monday, local people and parents of the students lodged a written complaint at Haroa police station. On Tuesday, they submitted a memorandum to the headmaster, Himangshu Sekhar Mondal, demanding resumption of the puja, ban on entry of outsiders, safety of students and installation of security cameras.
On Sunday, Mondal had told HT that the puja was stopped in 2009 under disturbing circumstances when local people and students objected to holding Nabi Diwas in the school. “To ensure peace, some residents of this area and the school authorities decided not to hold either inside the premises,” he said on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Mondal did not take calls. “No puja was held at the school on Wednesday,” said Shankar Sinha, officer-in-charge, Haroa police station.