'This is propaganda': Indian school makes children write letter thanking Modi for stripping Kashmir's autonomy

Exclusive: Woman who shared viral tweet says children 'being instructed on what to think'

Adam Withnall
Thursday 15 August 2019 15:57 BST
Narendra Modi greets officials and ministers (unseen) after addressing the nation at the Red Fort on Thursday
Narendra Modi greets officials and ministers (unseen) after addressing the nation at the Red Fort on Thursday (EPA)

Children at a school in India have been tasked with writing a letter to prime minister Narendra Modi “thanking him” for removing Kashmir’s special constitutional status, as part of a homework assignment that has sparked controversy online.

The task was given this week to class 6 children – pupils aged 11 and 12 – at the Hansraj Public School in Panchkula, Haryana.

One woman who tweeted that her brother had been given the homework called it “propaganda” and said she was “enraged”. Her tweet has been shared thousands of times and received more than 500 replies, many vociferously defending the school and the government.

Mr Modi’s government announced on 5 August that it was unilaterally revoking Kashmir’s autonomy, its ability to make its own laws and prevent outsiders from settling in the Muslim-majority valley, as well as the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir from a state to two directly-controlled union territories.

Since the day before the announcement, the region has been on lockdown amid fears of an angry backlash. Kashmiri politicians and locals accuse the government of trying to force demographic changes in the Muslim-majority region.

But the Indian government has been working hard to justify its decision, saying it will bring economic prosperity, end separatism in Kashmir and that it has popular support outside the state. It has downplayed reports of unrest in the region.

In an interview with The Independent, the woman who first tweeted about the now viral homework assignment said she was concerned about the way the task was framed, and that the issue was “too difficult for students as young as 11-12 to be able to grasp”.

She shared a screenshot of a homework app which read: “All students have to write a letter in Hindi, to PM of India, thanking PM for removing Article 370 in J & K (Jammu and Kashmir)”. The app said the letters were to be brought in ahead of India’s Independence Day celebrations on Thursday.

Hansraj Public School is part of the largest non-governmental chain of schools in India, the DAV College Managing Committee (DAVCMC), which says it runs more than 900 educational institutions across the country.

On Tuesday, media in Odisha state reported that schools in the network were being asked to produce open letters approving of Mr Modi’s decision on Kashmir.

Draft letters called the revocation of Article 370 an “historical decision” that would “end the terrorism”, and praised Mr Modi’s “able and astute leadership”. Schools were ordered to collect teachers’ and parents’ signatures and return the letters urgently. Copies were also reportedly circulated to students.

The woman whose 11-year-old brother received the Haryana homework assignment, who asked to remain anonymous, said she could “hardly believe they've given such a heavily biased assignment on a political issue”.

“Rather than being asked to write about their thoughts on the issue, which is often how school assignments are presented, they were being instructed on what to think as well,” she told The Independent.

Her parents had decided to write to the school explaining he would not be completing the homework, she said.

The woman asked to remain anonymous because of the heated arguments the tweet had provoked online, and for fear of repercussions for her brother at school.

In less than 48 hours, the original tweet received more than 10,000 likes and retweets and hundreds of replies varying from outrage at the assignment to personal attacks on the woman herself.

Many expressed support for Mr Modi. Some said that if she didn’t like it she could move to another country – a common trope in online arguments in India – or compared the assignment to previous generations being asked to write about the achievements of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s widely venerated first prime minister.

A minority, however, called the homework “brainwashing”. Yasmin Kidwai, a Delhi-based politician for the opposition Congress party, said it was a “ridiculous” task.

The original poster said she had “never seen a tweet go viral like this before”. “I've been reading the responses pretty much throughout the day although I haven't engaged with many,” she said.

“It makes me nervous to think that, at the end of the day, the majority of our voting population seems to believe our government can do no wrong,” she said. “It feels like the nation's development and well-being take a backseat [to] the cult of personality surrounding the current PM.”

Hansraj Public School and the DAVCMC did not immediately respond to phone calls and emailed requests for comment.

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