From light to darkness, in Yogi Raj

The suspension of a Muslim school headmaster over Allama Iqbal’s poem in Uttar Pradesh is nothing but a contemporary expression of an early stage of fascism thriving on right-wing majoritarianism

File photo of UP CM Yogi Adityanath (social media)
File photo of UP CM Yogi Adityanath (social media)

Ashutosh Sharma

Singing “Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri”— a prayer penned by prominent Urdu poet Allama Iqbal (November 9, 1877 – April 21, 1938) — at school’s morning assembly, remains one of my fondest childhood memories.

My school — in a Hindu majority tehsil in Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir — had only two Muslim students. And yet, no one ever raised an objection against the prayer.

Over the years, I became agnostic but still I love to croon the ‘dua’ during my occasional transit through childhood nostalgia.

Mere allah buraai se bachaana mujhko

Nek jo rah ho, ussi reh pe chalana mujhko

(My god, protect me from every evil-doing,

Show me the path leading to the righteous ways)

The news about suspension of a government-run primary school headmaster, Furqan Ali, at Giyaspur in Uttar Pradesh has come as a rude shock. The teacher was punished for encouraging students to recite this prayer at the school’s morning assembly, besides ‘Itni Shakti Hamein Dena Daata’ and our National Anthem.

The emotional and intellectual bankruptcy of the Hindutva Brigade can never surprise a reasonable person. But in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, it’s appalling to see devious government officials acting like dim-witted religious bigots. Swiftly acting on a complaint filed by local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal activists, Pilibhit District Magistrate (DM) Vaibhav Srivastava wasted no time in placing the headmaster under suspension.

Going a step further, local VHP chief Ramesh Mishra demanded that the headmaster be dismissed from service for this “anti-national” act.

The DM told reporters that basic education officer Devendra Swarup, who apparently probed the matter, has found the charges to be true.

What’s worse, a section of media reported that the headmaster was suspended for asking children to recite a “religious prayer usually performed in madrasas”.

The tragedy at the heart of the matter is that no one cared enough to take a look at the poem in question. Everyone was in a tearing hurry to demonise the teacher and vilify the poem. Sample the following verses which emphasise on enlightened individuals for an enlightened world. The poem celebrates love for the homeland without propagating hate or revulsion for other countries. It impresses upon students to pursue knowledge and evolve as good human beings in life.

Door dunya ka mere dam se andhera ho jaye

Har jagha mere chamakne se ujala ho jaye

(May the world’s darkness disappear through the life of mine

May every place light up with the sparkling light of mine)

Ho mere dam se yunhi mere watan ki zeenat

Jis tarha phool se hoti hai chaman ki zeenat

(May my homeland through me attain elegance

Just like a garden through flowers attains elegance)

Any person who hasn’t lost touch with sanity would wonder what’s “anti-national” about these lines. In fact, the Muslim teacher’s persecution is an accurate reflection of the brand of nationalism practised by Hindutva bigots and their lackeys in the government machinery.

Iqbal was deeply influenced by Indian saint philosophers, Sanskrit scholars as well as Islamic literature. While he wrote Taranah-e-Hind(anthem of people of Hindustan), “Saare Jahan Se Achcha”, he also penned verses in praise of lord Rama.

Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindostaan ko naaz

Ahl-e-Nazar samajhte hain us ko Imam-e-Hind

(India is proud of the existence of Ram

Wise people consider him spiritual leader of India)

Iqbal, in the preface to his epic work Asrar-i-Khudi(Secrets of the Self), expressed eloquently his admiration for lord Krishna: “The name of Sri Krishna will always be taken with great reverence in the intellectual history of humankind. He attacked old philosophies of his country, stating that renunciation does not mean total inaction.”

His poem on Guru Nanak from Baang-e-Dara denounces exploitation in the name of the God and stresses on social justice and equality. Referring to the miserable plight of Dalits, his poem laments that India never valued Gautam Buddha and his teachings. In the conclusion, Iqbal talks about Guru Nanak, the Mard-e-Kamil (The Perfect Man).

True, Iqbal during later years of his life, encouraged Muhammad Ali Jinnah to embrace the idea of Pakistan for securing the political future of Muslims in the subcontinent. But the political reality of today’s India screams that we’re proving his fears right.

If we see the headmaster’s case against the backdrop of rising religious hate crimes targeting Muslims, things look easily understandable. His suspension over Iqbal’s poem is nothing but a contemporary expression of an early stage of fascism, thriving on right wing populism in our country. It is a live demonstration featuring communal absurdity that devours sanity and rationality. We’re witnessing a reversal of what the Upanishad expounds:

Aum asato ma sad gamaya

Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

(From ignorance, lead me to truth,

From darkness, lead me to light)

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