A year after the Vijay Rupani-led Gujarat government announced a Navratri vacation, it has decided against it. And not without a sense of d j vu. The Indian Express explains why the idea has been unsettling for the BJP.
What is the issue?
On May 28, the state government had announced that the Navratri vacation announced last year would continue in the current academic year in schools, colleges and universities. In a statement, the government had declared that "this was decided especially keeping students and parents in mind". The eight-day vacation announced from September 30 to October 7 was applicable to all government and private primary, secondary and higher secondary schools. The Navratri vacation was hived from the Diwali vacations, which was reduced to 13 days from October 25 till November 6, 2019.
Barely ten days later, the Gujarat government has done a turnaround, four days before the new academic is to begin, the state cabinet took a decision to cancel the vacation, for the festival that has been marketed as the World s longest dance festival since the Narendra Modi era.
However, the Navratri vacation has remained a contentious issue. In 1995, the Keshubhai Patel-led BJP government was the first to announce a Navratri vacation, but it had to withdraw it in two years for the very reasons it is being cancelled this year.
Why did the government announce the vacation last year?
Minister of state for education Vibhavari Dave, quite suddenly had announced the vacation in July, when the academic session had already begun. And since she announced it before the media in the middle of the session it could not be retracted, and it was largely felt that her action was without taking the state government into confidence.
However, later the state education department claimed that it was first introduced for colleges and given a similar demand from parents of school students, it was decided to close schools as well during Navratri, which is one of the biggest festivals of Gujarat.
Though the outstation students in colleges from other states had expressed that they will get less days to stay at home during Diwali vacation which was reduced from three to two weeks but the number of such students is very marginal. Thus, this did not impact the state government’s decision. The major vacations in the schools are the summer and Diwali vacations. Some schools also give a week-long Christmas vacation, without compromising on the other two vacations.
Last year, the education institutes across primary, secondary and higher education had Navratri vacation of seven days from October 15 till 21 and Diwali vacation of 14 days from November 5 till 18. So far, there was no Navratri vacation in both schools and colleges while Diwali vacation were of three weeks, which was reduced to two.
Why the flip flop?
In May end this year while preparing the academic calendar, there were dissenting voices within the education department about the Navratri vacation.
While the education committee of Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB) protested against Navratri vacations, its executive committee that met later last month, approved it. Thus, the GSHSEB finally decided to continue the vacation which was put on record on the academic calendar too.
However, several primary and secondary teachers associations objected to the decision claiming it hampered the studies which is affected badly as right after the vacations, students have their term exams. The Gujarat Higher Secondary Teachers Association president Pankaj Patel linked the performance in the exams to these vacations and said the students could easily come to school after doing the garba till midnight.
Notably, the government did not extend the garba deadlines to after midnight even after announcing the vacation last year.
Why are organisations protesting?
In 2018 too there were vocal protests from Saurashtra and Surat over the Navratri vacation. At the centre of the Surat protest was the diamond industry whose Diwali vacation was sacrosanct since the migrant families employed by it go home during this time. A majority of these families are from Saurashtra. Which is why over 150 private schools in Surat did not open schools on the date stipulated by the government, after Navratri and instead extended it by a week, to synchronise with the closing down of the industry. Notices were issued to 164 schools for non-compliance, last year.
This year, office-bearers and other school owners who wield considerable influence say they had kept on the pressure up on the government over the issue. In fact, school owners and association office-bearers had made representations to Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama during his recent two visits to Rajkot. They told the minister that their wards’ performance had been adversely affected last year due to Navratri vacation, especially those in Classes X & XII. The association, though against the decision last year as well, had decided not to defy the government order of vacation last year because Rajkot is the hometown of CM Vijay Rupani.