Uproar over Christmas Day school event, government says no school open

New Delhi (IANS): A circular by Navodaya Vidayalaya Samiti under the human resource development ministry to observe Good Governance Day on Christmas Day kicked up an uproar in parliament but the government sought to clarify the essay competition being held on the day was voluntary and no school had been asked to remain open.

The issue figured in both houses of parliament with members in Lok Sabha coming near podium of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to demand a clarification from the government.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told the house that the government has not asked the schools to remain open for an essay writing contest on Christmas day and participation will only be voluntary and online.

He said no circular issued had been issued to say that schools should be run on that day.

“Nothing has been made mandatory. There is no question of using force,” Naidu added.

The Christmas Day also happens to be the birthday of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the NDA government has decided to celebrate it as the Good Governance Day. The Navodaya Vidayalaya Samiti issued an internal circular as a follow-up to the government’s decision.

Raising the issue in the house, Congress MP K.C. Venugopal said an essay competition is being held Dec 24-25 by the Navodaya Vidayalaya Samiti but Christians will go to churches on the two days. “It will be hurting sentiments of minorities.”

As Venugopal spoke, his fellow members from the Congress and members from other parties rose from their seats. Some of them came close to the Lok Sabha speaker’s podium.

Naidu said he spoke to Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani over the issue and was told that there was no circular issued that the schools will run Dec 25.

In the Rajya Sabha, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said there were reports that schools have been asked to remain open on Christmas.

“You have ‘Swachhta Divas’ on Gandhi Jayanti, good governance day on Christmas. This with conversions that are going on, are a serious concern,” he said.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there is only an online essay competition on good governance.

“I have asked the HRD minister. She said schools have not been asked to stay open on Christmas,” he said.

The HRD ministry also issued a detailed clarification blaming a section of media for “distorted impression” that schools have been asked to remain open Dec 25. It said no instructions have been issued to state governments.

“This is to clarify that CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) has not directed any school to remain open on 25th December, 2014. All schools will follow their vacation schedule including vacation /holiday on 25th December as specifically clarified by CBSE,” it said.

It said that the proposed instructions of the CBSE were to conduct an online essay competition on Dec 24 and 25 which is completely voluntary and students can participate from their homes or any other place with online access.

On the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, it said that vacation pattern depends on the climatic conditions but noted that Dec 25 was a holiday.

“As a residential school, however, the school functions as children continue to remain there and these children will have the opportunity to participate if they so wish in the essay competition,” the release said.

It also said no other activities for this competition were being held.

The release also said that all Kendriya Vidyalayas will remain closed but its students can take part voluntarily in the online essay competition.

“In view of this, no child or student will be deprived of celebrating the holidays or vacations or participating in their own festivals and religious festivals whole heartedly,” the release added.

Congress MP K. V. Thomas said the government was not sincere.

“They should not have thought of this. Why (was it planned) for Dec 25,” he said.

Principals of some schools in Delhi that IANS spoke to said that they had not received any circular from CBSE but said that sentiments of Christians about holiday on Dec 25 should be respected.