Friday, March 1, 2024

UP: School asks students to ‘defend Israel’ in debate competition; sparks outrage

School’s Principal, Sunny Verghese said, “The views expressed by the students in the debates are their own and we are not liable for that. The student who termed Hamas as a terrorist organisation is her own opinion and that is a part of the debate,” as quoted by the local media.

A debate competition in a school turned controversial as students were asked to defend and justify Israel’s action amounting to the genocide of Palestinians.

Huddard High School in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur district held a debate competition in Hindi on Saturday, 9 December, on the topic “Violence or Non-Violence, What is better?”

The students in the debate were seemingly compelled to defend Israel’s actions and condemn Hamas’s resistance. This was based on the prevailing geopolitical situation between Israel and Palestine.

For those speaking ‘FOR’ the motion, the topic was, “Hamas terrorist ne Israel ke kitne nav shishu ko mara hai aur Israel ka haqq hai wo Hamas par Missile dale” “’How many naval infants has Hamas terrorists killed in Israel, and does Israel have the right to launch missiles on Hamas?'”

For those arguing ‘AGAINST,’ the assigned topic was, “Israel ko dekho wo kaise Hamas k terrorist attack ko jhel raha hai jahan Hamas ne unki peedhiyan khatam krdil” “’Look at how Israel is coping with the terrorist attacks by Hamas, where Hamas has wiped out generations of Israelis.'”

The debate began, with students reportedly from the non-Muslim community justifying acts of violence by Israel and perpetuating Islamophobia. Additionally, a student labeled Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, many students present as audience and participants found “defending Israel’s actions amounting to genocide” morally objectionable.

Students expressing discomfort with ‘being compelled to justify a position against humanitarian principles and international law’ were reportedly labeled as terrorists and Pakistanis by teachers and fellow students. They even faced threats of expulsion from the school.

A student who preferred to remain anonymous told Maktoob, “We felt pressured to advocate for a position that nobody should support, and the debate topic went against our moral beliefs. The motive of such a debate did not only violate the principles of free and open discourse but also contributed to fostering an environment that promotes discrimination, hatred, and violence.”

The student went on to say: “When we, the students resisted, we were called Pakistanis and terrorists and teachers openly said that they support Israel and do not regret it at all.”

“The school is supposed to impart ethical and moral education but these kinds of acts clearly exhibit their deep-rooted hatred against Muslims, Palestine, and Islam,” the student added.

A student who raised objections to such a debate competition was threatened to lose a year in school as teachers said they would fail all the students who exhibited any kind of protest or resistance in the matter.

He said, “The teacher who organised this debate competition is threatening students and telling them to fail us in our board examinations.”

He further claimed that the episode created an atmosphere of distress and unease, as students were forced to defend actions widely criticised on the global stage.

Another student said to Maktoob: “This kind of activity not only violated academic norms but also had the potential to contribute to the normalisation of violence and undermine the principles of justice.”

She added, “We study in schools to learn rationality and justice and if we are fed with the wrong information when everybody knows what is unfolding in Gaza and Palestine, then there is no point getting such education, which promotes structural violence and genocide of innocent Palestinians. The world knows it.”

A group of students approached the school’s principal, Sunny Verghese demanding an apology from the teacher who organised the debate competition and assigned the topic but were reverted back without any apology or action.

On Monday, 11 December, students were expecting that the principal or the authorities would mention the incident or the action taken by them, but nothing of that sort happened.

On Tuesday, 12 December, to demand an apology, students finally resorted to protest inside the campus but the school administration imposed more stern actions, restricting students’ movement during recess, playtime, and even when the school got over.

A student told Maktoob, “We were not allowed to protest. Playtime periods were suspended, lunchtime was restricted to the classrooms only and when school got over, we were not allowed to go to the corridors, students were not allowed to move outside collectively as it used to be always.”

She said, “We were told if anyone speaks they will be expelled and a trany certificate will be issued to them right away.”

“If nothing is wrong, why is our human and constitutional right to protest being curbed?” she asked.

The outraged students have also taken the issue to social media to voice their concerns and demand accountability. Calls to demand an apology have gained momentum as videos of the protest surfaced on social media sites. For now, the students have decided to continue the protest.

Following the students’ protest, the school administration has suspended classes citing study leaves for preliminary examination from tomorrow, 13 December for classes 10th and 12th which were earlier scheduled from December 22 as per the school diary.

The notice issued by the school and the schedule in the school diary was reviewed by Maktoob to verify the same.

It is noteworthy that Huddard High School is run by Christians and most of the teachers are Christians. 80 percent of the students are Muslims in the school and it is located in the civil lines area, which houses Muslims in the majority, as per the students and their parents.

Maktoob reached out to Anamika Das, one of the teachers accused of siding with Israel and its action against Palestinians but she refused to comment stating, “I am busy at the moment, will call back in a while.” Multiple calls made later to this teacher went unanswered.

School’s Principal, Sunny Verghese said, “The views expressed by the students in the debates are their own and we are not liable for that. The student who termed Hamas as a terrorist organisation is her own opinion and that is a part of the debate,” as quoted by the local media.

He also said that the student will not apologise as it’s her view and there is no communal angle to the incident.

Maktoob is constantly trying to reach out to the Principal and school administration to learn about the incident. The story will be updated as soon as we receive a response.

The names of all the students who spoke with Maktoob are not mentioned in the story to secure their identity, as requested by the subjects.

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