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#India – Atheist Teacher in Mumbai asks – Pray, what wrong did I do ? #mustread

ALOK DESHPANDE, Mumbai September 1, 2013

Fighting it out:Sanjay Salve says compulsory prayer is contrary to Article 28 (3) of the Constitution. The English teacher, who embraced Buddhism, is seen at his home in Nashik.— Photo: Alok Deshpande

Fighting it out:Sanjay Salve says compulsory prayer is contrary to Article 28 (3) of the Constitution. The English teacher, who embraced Buddhism, is seen at his home in Nashik.— Photo: Alok Deshpande

When all in his school fold their hands during prayer, Sanjay Salve keeps his hands firmly behind his back. The 41-year-old English teacher in Nashik is fighting imposition of prayers during school hours. “Only the national anthem should be played in school,” he says.

But Mr. Salve has paid a price for his “defiance.” Though eligible for a higher pay grade since 2008 — the year after his revolt — he has been denied it for ‘indiscipline.’ The management of the state-funded Savitribai Phule Secondary School sullied his 2008-09 Confidential Report. It was the same management which gave him excellent CRs in the preceding 12 years. “And fellow teachers with whom I once had cordial relations now avoid me,” he says.

Ironically, the school has been named after one of Maharashtra’s greatest 19th Century social reformers. Savitribai was the first woman teacher in the first women’s school and founded one for girls from the marginalised castes. Mr. Salve is an assistant teacher in the school run by the Mahatma Phule Samaj Shikshan Sanstha. Of nearly 1,600 students here, almost 60 per cent are either OBCs or Dalits. Around 35 per cent are Muslims. Mr. Salve is a Dalit who embraced Buddhism. The school management is overwhelmingly OBC.

Against compulsory prayer

Mr. Salve, who joined the school in 1996, says “the national anthem can instil more values in students. In any case, compulsory prayer is contrary to Article 28 (3) of the Constitution. Nor is there scope for it in the Maharashtra Secondary School Code.”

He has sought redress from the Bombay High Court. The next hearing in the case — whose outcome could seriously impact the debate over religious preaching and prayer in schools — is on September 6.

The son of poor parents who never finished school, Mr. Salve is a B.A. B.Ed. His wife is completing an M.Phil. Savitribai Phule would have been proud of them. The school isn’t.

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