Goa school principal suspended for taking students to mosque to attend workshop
Keshav Smurthi Higher Secondary School's students were invited to the mosque by the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) on Saturday.
The prinicpal of a private school in South Goa's Vasco was suspended on Monday by the school's management following a police complaint which stated that he took a group of class 11 students to a mosque for a workshop and allegedly asked the students to perform religious rituals.
Keshav Smurthi Higher Secondary School's students were invited to the mosque by the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) on Saturday. As reported by NDTV, the invite was a part of an initiative to promote communal harmony.
The state's education department sought an explanation from the school's board.
“The department has sought an explanation from the school management and the response is awaited. The principal, Shankar Gaonka, has been suspended since, it has been brought to our knowledge,” said Education Director Shailesh Zingde.
On Monday, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) members with the Vasco police against the prinipal for allegedly “supporting anti-national activities”.
The Indian Express reported that VHP claimed that the workshop was conducted on the invitation of an organisation which was affiliated with the banned Popular Front of India.
Photos of several students went viral on social media where the girls could be seen wearing their uniform dupatta over their heads. Parents of the students also staged protests in front of the school along with members of reigh-wing outfits VHP and Bajrang Dal.
Speaking to The Indian Express, former principal Gaonka said that the mosque visit in Dabolim was organised after an invite from the SIO and was organised to promote communal harmony. He said that students from a government school in Baina were also invited.
“A total of 21 students from our school, including three girl students and a teacher, were taken to the mosque. Students were shown where the prayers are conducted and entry-exit areas at the mosque. Some students may have covered their heads out of respect. The claim that students were forced to wear hijab or perform rituals is false.”
Gaonka said that in the past too, the school had taken students to temples, churches and mosques for visits. “Children from all the faiths study at the school. Some students from another school had also visited the mosque. I do not know why I have been suspended,” he said.
SIO's parent body Jammat-e-Islami Hind's state president Asif Hussain told The Indian Express that a workshop was organised at the Masjid-E-Noor in Dabolim as a part of their routine initiatives. He said that such visits were an annual feature and students came on their own accord. “The school students were shown the area where prayers are conducted and they were given sweets. All these claims [of religious conversion] are baseless.”
VHP's South Goa joint secretary Sanju Korgaoker has said that such practices could be a part of “school jihad” and he claimed that the workshop was a part of a conspiracy to brainwash students and carryout religious conversions.