Indian school faces criminal investigation over Islamic prayers

A private school in India is being investigated by police under a controversial religious conversion law for holding multi-faith prayers that include the Islamic declaration of faith, an officer said Tuesday.

A video circulated on social media showed students from Florets International School in Kanpur reciting prayers including texts from four major religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism.

Several right-wing Hindu groups and Hindu parents staged street protests in the city over the weekend.

Religious conversion has long been a flashpoint in India, which is predominantly Hindu but also has the second-largest Muslim population in the world.

Communal tensions have been high at times and in recent years Hindu extremist groups as well as local governments led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have stepped up their attack on proselytism.

The school is in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh, which last year passed a law criminalizing all religious conversions without prior state approval – legislation that critics say targeted Muslims.

Police said on Tuesday the headmaster of the school was being investigated under the law for offending religious beliefs following allegations by Hindu parents that the school was ‘preparing’ students to convert to Islam.

“We have acted on a complaint received from Hindu parents objecting to Islamic prayers,” Kanpur Police Deputy Commissioner Nishank Sharma told AFP.

Sharma said an investigation has been opened but no arrests have yet been made.

The practice of reciting religious texts was stopped at the school following the complaint, the officer added.

The school denied the conversion claim and insisted the multi-faith prayers had been recited for more than a decade at the facility and were intended to instill a sense of religious harmony in students.

“We have been following the tradition since 2003 but no one objected. We stopped the prayers after some parents complained on Friday,” school principal Ankita Yadav told reporters.

Many BJP-ruled states have passed laws against religious conversion amid claims by right-wing Hindu groups that Islamic groups are conspiring to convert Hindus to increase India’s Muslim population.