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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Indian song strikes chord with pupils
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Urdu students at school in Delhi
Urdu pupils in Delhi say they like singing the song
When Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote Vande Mataram, India's national song in 1876, he had no idea that it would one day generate such strong emotions.

To sing or not to sing Vande Mataram - that is the dilemma confronting India now as the country prepares to celebrate the song's centenary.

At the opposite ends of the spectrum are the Hindu and Muslim hardline groups.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants all schools, including Muslim madrassas, to sing the song on the chosen date, 7 September.

The party has issued directives to the five states where it is in power to ensure that Vande Mataram is sung at all educational institutions on the day.

I find it highly objectionable to see the song being used as a litmus test of one's patriotism
Author Sabyasachi Bhattacharya

"The song has inspired us for 100 years and opposing it is like opposing the constitution of India," says Ashok Singhal, senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (or VHP, World Hindu Council), an affiliate of the BJP.

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

"We worship only Allah. The song's verses are in praise of Hindu goddesses," says Owaisi Asaduddin, a Muslim MP from southern India.

"We respect it because it's our national song, but don't force it upon us. India is a secular country."

'Divisive feelings'

Muslim organisations in some of the BJP-ruled states have threatened to direct members of their community not to send their children to school on 7 September.

Pupil Ariz Iqbal Ahmad
My father is a musician. I practise singing Vande Mataram with him when he plays the harmonium
Delhi pupil Ariz Iqbal Ahmad

They say they will not be forced to sing the song which literally translates as "Mother I bow to thee."

Mr Singhal says the government should take action against those opposing the song as they are "unpatriotic".

"We don't need certificates in patriotism from these people," is Mr Owaisi's retort.

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, author of a book on the song, is appalled by the current controversy.

"I find it highly objectionable to see the song being used as a litmus test of one's patriotism," he says.

"This is how a good number of Hindu communalists have looked upon the song and this will lead to divisive feelings. This is to be avoided at all costs."

Mr Bhattacharya says Vande Mataram was written in 1876 as a two-stanza song to praise the beauty of the motherland.

A few years later, an expanded version with several references to Hindu goddesses appeared in Bankim Chandra's anti-Muslim novel Anand Math.

The song was sung at the Congress party session in Varanasi in December, 1905 and soon it became the rallying cry for many 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.


It's also sung every day at many schools across the country.

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote Vande Mataram

The government-run school in central Delhi's Hanuman Road is one such institution.

"The rules are the same for all students, we don't make any distinction between Hindus or Muslims. There's nothing wrong with Muslims singing Vande Mataram in school," says Urdu teacher, Nasreen Jahan.

Her students, aged 10 and 11 years, have not heard about the controversy surrounding one of their "favourite" songs and they love singing it for its tune and music.

One pupil, Mohammad Alam, says: "I learnt the song in school, I don't know what the lyrics mean since they are in Sanskrit, but I like to sing it."

Ten-year-old Adiba Nawab likes singing it with her friends.

And their parents do not seem to disapprove either.

Ariz Iqbal Ahmad, 11, says: "My father is a musician. I practise singing Vande Mataram with him when he plays the harmonium. I love this song."

This, says Professor Imtiaz Ahmad of Jawaharlal Nehru University, proves that "the general public has no objections to the song. They sing it when they want to sing it. It's the hardliners on the two sides who are playing politics."

BJP shifts stance

Some historians also do not understand why the government chose 7 September as the date to celebrate the song's anniversary as it has no significance.

After media reports criticising the Hindu nationalists and strong protests from Muslim groups, the BJP has softened its stand, with senior party leaders now saying they will not force anyone to sing Vande Mataram on 7 September.

The climb-down follows intervention from senior party leaders, including the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who did not want the issue to get out of control.

The directive for all schools to sing Vande Mataram originally came from the Congress-led federal government, but following protests from Muslims it swiftly made clear it was not mandatory.

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