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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Religious census in Gujarat schools

The Milli Gazette Online

Ahmedabad: A controversial decision to make primary students fill in a village-wise religion-based questionnaire has raised suspicions about the Gujarat government's "hidden agenda".

The Opposition Congress has dubbed the census in rural areas as the BJP's "attempt to disturb communal harmony".

Education minister Anandiben Patel denied any religion-based survey in village schools. She, however, admitted students are being asked to fill in a questionnaire, but argued the exercise is aimed at making them aware of their social and cultural surroundings.

The four-page questionnaire seeks to find out how many people belong to which religion in a village, the festivals that are celebrated, the number of religious places and their historical importance.

The survey is being conducted as part of the government's district primary education project's documentation exercise in each of the state's 18,000 villages. District education officials have been directed to send the details in the form of a "village diary".

Meena Bhatt, the project director, said the questionnaire is meant to "sharpen the writing skills of primary students" and aimed at getting information for preparing pictorial messages for children.

Why then are only two of the 27 columns in the questionnaire related to education, asked Opposition leader Arjun Modhvadia.

Modhvadia alleged that the education department is implementing the agenda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They intend to create a religion-based databank on the rural areas, like they did in cities before the 2002 riots to identify Muslim properties which were later targeted with precision, he accused.

The Congress leader said a similar exercise was secretly undertaken by Gujarat police in Dangs district just before the anti-Christian attacks in 1998.

The Congress dominates 20 of the 25 district panchayats in the state and is exploring ways to stop the survey.

But Patel said the questionnaire would not be withdrawn. Children, she said, have a right to know the religion of the people they live with in the villages and about their festivals.

She dismissed the Congress' fears of another BJP gameplan to disrupt communal harmony in the "socially integrated" villages as unfounded and demonstrative of its "mental perversion" about a harmless exercise.

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