How a School Play on Religious Diversity in Lucknow Was Given a Nasty Communal Spin

New Delhi: On August 15, 2022, several social media handles shared a cleverly edited 20-second video of independence day celebrations at the Shishu Bharti Vidyalaya in Lucknow’s Khala Bazar with the false claim that the girl playing the role of Bharat Mata in a skit was forced by Muslims to remove her crown and kneel on the ground to offer namaz.

Accounts which have a history of spreading fake news, such as the right-wing propaganda channels Kreately (the website popularised by BJP leader Kapil Mishra) and Sudarshan News, as well as politicians linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party, disseminated the video clip with inflammatory claims.

Abhijat Mishra, a former national office holder of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, urged the UP chief minister to take cognisance of the school skit, while Sudarshan News tweeted, “The crown on Bharat Ma’s head was replaced with a hijab”.

Some screenshots of tweets sharing a clipped version of a school play on religious harmony.

As soon as the video went viral, the Lucknow police investigated and discovered it had been mischievously edited and circulated to spread rumours. The entire video shows young students dressed as people of various faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christians – offering their religious reverence to the country with Mother India acknowledging everyone as a part of her and participating in their prayers.

The police said the video promoted communal amity and harmony among various communities. However, only the part where children dressed as Muslim children in skull caps can be seen tying a white cloth around the head of Bharat Mata was shared.

Last month, a video of a school from Kanpur where multi-faith prayers were performed was made viral with similar claims of forced Islamisation. The school authorities were slapped with a criminal case under sections 295A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 5(1) of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021. The FIR was registered after a complaint and protest by Hindutva activists against the purported conspiracy of “shiksha jihad – the recitation of Islamic prayers – as part of multifaith worship in the school. The school then discontinued all religious prayers.

This time around, however, the Lucknow police has registered a case under the Information Technology Act against those spreading the misleading video.

It is not clear whether the police is taking action against Sudarshan News, Kreately Media and other right-wing influencers.

Featured image: A scene from the school play on religious diversity. Photo: Screengrab via Twitter

This article was first published on The Wire.