New ‘hell-bound Hindus’ row at nose-ring school

Durban, South Africa - A Durban school that was recently at the centre of a nose-ring saga is embroiled in another religious row after Hindus were allegedly told by a teacher that they were bound for hell.

Durban Girls’ High School in Glenwood has been in the public eye for the past three years since a former pupil, Sunali Pillay, and her mother, Navi, legally challenged the institution for refusing to allow her to wear a nose ring.

This month, the Constitutional Court found that the school’s governing body had discriminated unfairly against her and ordered that its code of conduct be reviewed to accommodate religious and cultural practices.

Now a new controversy has erupted after concerned parents complained that a teacher had allegedly ridiculed Hinduism.

The parents approached Kamal Maharaj, editor of the Hindu Vishwa Shakti newspaper, and Ram Maharaj, head of the SA Dharma Sabha, who is a member of the parliamentary education portfolio committee.

A parent who asked not to be identified said she was outraged when she learnt that a teacher who was discussing religion with a group of girls told them that “those who did not believe in Jesus will go to hell and those who prayed to Jesus would go to heaven”.

“When a child said she was Hindu, she was told because she’s Hindu, she will go to hell. The teacher told her she would pray for her,” said the parent.

She also claimed the teacher said Hindus, in particular, were destined for hell because of their “idol worship”.

“After the discussion, a pupil told Hindu pupils that they were the people who came back as cows.

“I am shocked by these remarks. They are propagating Christianity and attacking other religions, which is unacceptable.”

Anne Martin, the school’s principal, said her initial investigation into the complaints revealed that “discussions took place between the teachers and the learners informally”.

“The educators clarified to the Hindu learners the Christian point of view when the learners had queried this with the teachers,” said Martin.

She said the comment about “reincarnation as cows is regretted and is the opinion of a single learner, seemingly speaking insensitively from a basis of a lack of knowledge and ignorance”.

“At no time would this school support any derogatory statement about any learner’s religion or beliefs. We endeavour to correct misconceptions when they are brought to our attention and teach tolerance and respect for another’s views.

“Our parents are encouraged to raise these issues with the governing body and school as a first approach to finding common ground,” said Martin.

Kamal Maharaj said schools were places of learning, not centres of indoctrination or propaganda.

“Schools should not be used to promote sectarian thinking, party politics or religious propaganda,” he said.

“Teachers are regarded as role models, and children tend to emulate them. It’s unacceptable that religion has been used to discriminate against others.

“The children were traumatised by the remarks. We are going to take this issue to the highest authorities.”

Ram Maharaj, who submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission this week, said: “These allegations are a flagrant violation of our Constitution, as well as the current national education policy, which promotes inter-faith understanding, harmony and nation-building.”

He called for a full-scale investigation into the allegations.

“After due process is followed, effective measures must be implemented so that never again will a child be persecuted or insulted for his or her religious and cultural beliefs and traditions.

“Hindus are in a state of renaissance. No more are we servile and docile, but strong, proud and assertive. While we Hindus respect all religions, we expect respect in return. We will not tolerate intolerance.

“The alleged remarks are unwarranted and venomous. It is particularly insensitive, offensive and traumatising during this period of Diwali.

“Schools can’t be reduced to happy hunting grounds to wean converts.”

Jody Kollapen, head of the Human Rights Commission, said: “School is a place where we should advance the values of tolerance and understanding.

“Any attempt to create a hierarchy of religion that suggests one God is more powerful than the other, to undermine people’s faith and belief, certainly would run contrary to the spirit of our Constitution.

“The commission would view such conduct in a strong light. But we will have to investigate this complaint thoroughly before drawing any conclusions.”