The annual Christmas party and a sit-in with a dressed up Santa is a regular feature in most urban and semi-urban schools across India. Clearly, however for promoters of a rigid majoritarian state, Hindu rashtra, this is not acceptable.
The education officer of Madhya Pradesh’s Shajapur district has, in a written order dated December 14, as reported by The Indian Express, said that both government and private schools will face action if students take part in Christmas-related events without the permission of their parents. This, interestingly, includes children dressing up as Santa Claus or Christmas trees for plays or other events.
The written order by district education officer Vivek Dubey, issued on December 14, reads, “Students should not be made part of Christmas-related events, including making them dress up or play roles like Santa Claus and Christmas tree, without the written consent of parents, to prevent any untoward situation or incident.”
“Unilateral disciplinary action will be proposed against your organisation if there are complaints in this regard,” it added. In a justification of what may be seen as an arbitrary action, Dubey is reported to have said there have been complaints in the past, and that the order does not ban Christmas events in schools.
“The circular does not ban any events in schools during the coming festive season. In the past, there have been instances of parents complaining about their wards being made part of such events in schools without their consent, and the circular is aimed at preventing such disputes. It’s better to prevent such controversies rather than acting after the incident has occurred,” he said.
Now, emboldened by this development that was widely reported in the media, far right group Sanskriti Bachao Manch in Bhopal also issued a warning to a school, asking its administration not to allow students to dress up as Santa Claus without the permission of parents. In a display of competitive aggression, the outfit’s president, Chandrasekhar Tiwar, also protested against the “long leaves” given to students during Christmas, alleging that on Diwali, only two days’ leave is granted while on Christmas, it is 10 days.
In 2022, the VHP had asked schools not to ask students to dress up as Santa Claus or bring Christmas trees without their parents’ permission, claiming that this was “an attack on Hindu culture” and “a conspiracy to influence Hindu children with Christianity”
Meanwhile, UCA News reported that Christians in the central Indian state are worried over a government order asking schools to seek parents’ nod before involving students in Christmas events. “This is the first time that we are coming across such an order,” said Father Rocky Shah, public relations officer of Jhabua diocese in the state.
Most schools in Madhya Pradesh are run by Catholic and other Christian denominations and its leaders view the circular as a deliberate attempt to target and harass Christians and their institutions. Shah also reportedly told UCA News on Dec. 22, “We never got such an order during the celebrations of major Hindu festivals.”
The December 14 order makes it clear that “students cannot be allowed to dress up as Santa Claus or put up a Christmas tree” in their schools without written permission from parents.
Madhya Pradesh is currently ruled by the supremacist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Hindutva party won a fresh mandate at the recent assembly elections, the results of which were declared on December 3. “It is quite alarming to see such a government order,” Shah noted.
A government official, however, defended the action stating that circular is a “precautionary measure” that was aimed at “curbing unwanted incidents.”
Jerry Paul, national president of the Sarva Isai Mahasabha (All Christian Federation), an ecumenical body, told UCA News that the government should rein in trouble-makers rather than threaten the school management with “unilateral action.” “Students dressing up as Santa Claus or putting up Christmas trees are not religious actions, but they are a message of happiness and peace,” he said. He also pointed out to the authorities that “the nativity of Jesus Christ is celebrated in churches and not in schools.” He further asserted that in a democratic country, everyone has the right to spread the message of love and happiness.
Church leaders were apprehensive that the pro-Hindutva party may come out with a similar circular in other districts of the state. Over the past years, Christian schools, hostels and orphanages in Madhya Pradesh have witnessed several surprise raids from child rights protection bodies in the past few years.
Several malicious complaints and cases have even been filed in Madhya Pradesh against Church officials, including a bishop, priests and nuns, under the draconian anti-conversion law. Madhya Pradesh has recorded 35 incidents of persecution against Christians till November 2023 this year.
Christians make up a mere 0.29 percent of 72 million people in the Hindu majority state.