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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Boycott threat over Indian song
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote Vande Mataram
Muslims in three Indian states say they will urge a school boycott on 7 September in protest at plans to sing the national song.

The Hindu nationalist BJP, in power in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, says all schools must sing the song Vande Mataram on its centenary.

Muslim groups say the song is a hymn to the Hindu Goddess Durga, and it is against the spirit of Islam to sing it.

Singing the song is not compulsory, the Congress-led federal government says.

'Anti-nationals'

Jharkhand's government has yet to issue a formal ruling, but it says no one should have any objections to singing the song.

A Muslim bows only before Allah. We can not equate the country with a Goddess
Obaidullah Qasmi,
prayer leader

But one prominent Muslim leader in Jharkhand, Maulana Qutubuddin Rizvi, says: "If the BJP-led state government makes singing the national song compulsory in schools, we will not send our children to school that day."

Obaidullah Qasmi, who leads prayers at a mosque in the state capital, Ranchi, says that singing Vande Mataram, which translates as 'Mother I bow before thee', is against the basic tenets of Islam.

"A Muslim bows only before Allah. We can not equate the country with a Goddess," he says.

In Madhya Pradesh, a spokesman for the Jamiate-Ulamae-Hind, Noorullah Yusufzai, told the BBC that singing the song had always been voluntary in the past.

"We are left with little option but to ask Muslims not to send their wards to schools."

Rajasthan and Gujarat are the two other BJP-run states. In the former, Muslim bodies say they have yet to decide to defy the government, but are prepared to go to court over the matter.

Muslim groups in India say singing the song should not be used to measure patriotism.

But the BJP, including its Muslim members, disagrees.

"Those who don't want to sing Vande Mataram are anti-nationals," says BJP minority-wing leader Rizwan Khan.

Rallying cry

The Sanskrit-language song, written by the Bengali Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1876, was sung at the Congress party session in Varanasi in December, 1905.

Soon it became the rallying cry for Indians fighting British colonial rule.

It was the front-runner to be India's national anthem, but lost out to Rabindranath Tagore's more secular Jana Gana Mana following opposition from Muslim groups.

But Vande Mataram is still regarded highly and is played in parliament at the beginning and end of each session.

In 2005, the federal government announced year-long celebrations marking the centenary of the song being sung in Varanasi. It asked all schools, including madrassas or Islamic seminaries, to get students to sing the song on 7 September.

After Muslim leaders objected, the government backed down and made singing voluntary.

The BJP says the climb-down encourages a lack of patriotism and says singing the song is mandatory for all educational establishments in the five states which it governs.

Others are unhappy over the date chosen, pointing out that 7 September has no historical significance for the song.


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