A violent incident at a school in India has highlighted the extent of rising religious tensions in the country, becoming a hot issue in the nearby national capital of New Delhi.
The Neha Public School in the city of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh is at the centre of a scandal. Its owner and principal – Tripti Tyagi – ordered the classmates to slap a student as a "punishment" for his poor academic performance.
Captured on video and spread across social media, it appeared to be a religiously motivated attack because the Muslim boy was beaten by mostly Hindu students.
As the video went viral, the images stoked outrage across the city, the country and beyond. The public outcry led to the school’s closure by local authorities, where Muslims make up about 41% of the 500,000 population. The justifications offered by Tyagi were equally outrageous. She claimed to be physically unable to issue the punishment herself.
But no action was taken beyond the closure of the school. With parliamentary elections looming next year, there was talk that Tyagi’s arrest could stoke anger among the Hindu bloc vote.
Sowing division in schools
The Neha incident highlights how schools in India have become breeding grounds for division and hatred, amid widening ethnic and religious fault lines in the most populous nation in the world.
But there is also a feeling that such division benefits the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been aggressively courting the votes of India’s dominant Hindu majority.