Fury in India over badges that show Gujarat school pupils' religion

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The Independent Online

Anger has spread across India because children at a school in Gujarat were required to wear badges showing whether they were Hindu or Muslim. Indian commentators compared the badges to the armbands European Jews had to wear during the Nazi regime.

Anger has spread across India because children at a school in Gujarat were required to wear badges showing whether they were Hindu or Muslim. Indian commentators compared the badges to the armbands European Jews had to wear during the Nazi regime.

The religious divide is a sensitive issue in Gujarat, scene of religious violence in 2002 in which at least 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Gujarat was also the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, who spent much of his life urging peaceful co-existence between India's religions, and told his followers: "I am a Muslim and a Christian and a Hindu and a Jew, and so are all of you."

Until last week children at the S J Dave High School in Shehra wore different badges stating their religion. Hindu children had an image of the Hindu goddess Saraswati and Muslims had a star. Most of the school's 714 pupils are Hindu, but 150 are Muslims.

The school says the badge issue has been blown out of proportion, and started not as an attempt to divide the children on religious grounds, but because Muslim children objected to wearing a badge depicting a Hindu goddess.

The children had been wearing the different badges for years. "Eight years ago, we decided upon a logo of Goddess Saraswati when uniforms were introduced," Rajnikant Pathak, the president of the school trust, said. "Some Muslim students were uncomfortable with them. So the principal allowed them to have a star." The school has now ordered the children to stop wearing the badges.

Timing has much to do with it: retrials are being held in some of the worst cases from the Gujarat massacres in 2002 and sentiment is still raw on inter-religious relations in the state. One of the worst atrocities - in which 58 Hindu pilgrims, including 40 women and children, were murdered by a Muslim mob - happened in Godhra, epicentre of the violence. The S J Dave High School school is just 15 miles away.

Some members of the school trust say that local Hindu activists from the extremist Shiv Sena party raked up the issue of the badges to stir controversy. They say a recent attempt by Shiv Sena adherents to get on to the board of trustees at the school was unsuccessful.

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