‘If I don’t pray before the cross I get punished’ my friend explained how his school in Delhi worked. He was in an Catholic school about 10 years ago.
The last time I stepped inside a school was when my mom was working in a school and I had to pick up the house keys. For now, I am no longer living in India but that can change.
The thing that astonished me the most was I never even thought about the way education system in India is so ingrained with religions. It was so normal for me that I never had this kind of conversation with anyone back in India.
My school in India started with morning (Hindu) prayer and national anthem, lectures and classes, closing (Hindu) prayer and then disburse. If you are one of the majority student in the school, this will seem completely normal to you as well.
It was normal to not talk about religions in school, common to not have an opinion in school. Nobody liked the prayers but we did it anyway because we were told to.
We never asked which religion’s prayer are we singing and why?
I never asked that question back in school, college and in university. It was normal to pray in my school. Singing the national anthem is not religious and patriotic so I never had any problem with it.
I think (I am not completely sure) I am Hindu. It makes sense for me back then and now today to pray a Hindu prayer. I can do a Christian prayer too and for me, both of them spell out the same message.
It wouldn’t make sense for a Christian or a Muslim child to pray an Hindu prayer. India is a dense multireligous jungle of a country and if I may paraphrase my friend’s description ‘India had every possible religion’.
Each religion will have its own prayers, traditions and customs. Each of the religious customs have always been seeped into the culture of the practitioners.
If the child of such a culture goes to study in a school of a completely different culture, the result of such a conflict would be severe.
For example, my friend. He is an atheist, for him praying is nonsensical. I can imagine him in a catholic school trying to resist praying sessions, Bible reading sessions and during Carols.
Reflecting back on my school days, I don’t remember having many Christian or Muslim classmates. Almost everyone was Hindu and a majority of us couldn’t be bothered praying unless exams were due.
No one, in my memory asked about why only Hindu prayers and none other. My friend’s school insisted on enforcing Christianity on its pupils.
For me and him, in our 20s, thinking back on it is pretty easy. He says that schools should NOT have any religious influence. He does have a point: teach physics and civil rights at school. Leave the religions at homes and temples, mosques and churches.
Democracy is not about enforcement of religion. It is certainly not what the Indian pledge says : “India is a secular country”
The question now is: What can be done? And more importantly, how many parents, grandparents think about religion when securing admissions?
Because I remember my school friends. We did not care about prayers. We may have cared if we had a choice on prayer.