Parents cried foul on Sunday, as several schools monitored whether their students lit diyas at 9 p.m. as urged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pressured by a letter from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) asking for an action taken report.
The Ministry later clarified that no coercion was intended and that participation was voluntary.
“I got a call from the parent representative at our school, asking me to comply with the government’s directions. I was livid, and told her it was more important that the government distribute personal protective equipment to hospital workers than monitoring children lighting diyas,” said one angry parent, with children in Class 5 and 7 at a south Delhi school, who did not wish to be named. “The representative said there was a lot of pressure on the school.”
The school sent a message to parents asking them to report back by 9 p.m. on the child’s participation in the lighting of diyas, and by 10 p.m. on the downloading of the Ministry of AYUSH’s Aarogya Setu app, adding that the Department of Education “requires an update on compliance”.
It included a letter from MHRD Joint Secretary Maneesh Garg, giving directions for how the app could be downloaded, as well as some “general measures to enhance the body’s defence system prepared by the Ministry of AYUSH” and details for the 9 p.m. candle lighting.
Mr. Garg’s email, which was sent to the State Education Departments and the boards of school education, asked them to “widely circulate… to students, teachers, officials and parents for maximum participation”. It then asked them to urgently convey an “action taken status in this regard” to the email address of a consultant working with the Ministry.
A number of schools swung into action on the basis of this email. “We are required to send feedback as to the numbers who have lit the lamp, therefore you are requested to inform your ward’s homeroom teacher how many have lit the lamp in each home,” read the message from a central Delhi school.
After parents expressed their outrage, the Ministry clarified that Mr. Garg’s email “was only meant to inform the students to voluntarily download the app and participate in the diya lighting. There is no coercion on anyone to do the same. As schools are closed there is no question of monitoring of attendance. The action taken report sought from State education officers is only meant to get feedback whether necessary information has been disseminated by them.”
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Some schools, however, have made plans for continued monitoring of compliance. One message asked a parent to “type AGREED if you’ve downloaded the app and the number of family members who have downloaded” and then added that a meeting for the students would be held via Zoom on Monday morning to discuss COVID-19 precautions.
“Government putting pressure on parents and children to light a diya at a specific time or download an app on alternative medicine sends a message that things are going haywire. These are the least important things at this time,” said a parent with a Class 6 child in a central Delhi school. “It defies logic and shows reliance on superstition. Maybe, it is harmless, but I will not do it if you force it down my throat.”
“It should be an act of choice, not coercion,” added another parent with two primary school children in the same school. “It’s disturbing when schools are made to compromise their primary objective of education to become part of a partisan agenda.”
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