The principal of a private higher secondary school in Goa’s Alto-Dabolim area was suspended after a police complaint alleged that he took a group of Class 11 students to a mosque and asked them to perform religious rituals, reported The Indian Express.
The principal, Shankar Gaonkar, said he had taken the students to a mosque in Dabolim on the invitation of the Student Islamic Organisation of India as part of an initiative to promote communal harmony.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, however, filed a police complaint alleging that Gaonkar forced female students to wear headscarves and perform Islamic rituals. Sanju Korgaoker, the joint secretary of the Hindutva outfit’s South Goa branch, claimed that the visit was organised by a group affiliated to the banned Popular Front of India.
He alleged that the visit was part of a “conspiracy to brainwash young children and an attempt to carry out religious conversions”, reported The Indian Express.
“We have been informed that at least two students had refused to go, but they were taken forcibly,” Korgaoker said. “Some photos of school children performing rituals at the mosque and wearing hijab have been circulating on social media.”
However, Gaonkar denied that students were forced to wear hijabs or perform Islamic rituals.
“A total of 21 students from our school, including three girl students and a teacher, were taken to the mosque,” the now-suspended principal said. “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.”
Gaonkar said that in the past, the school had also taken students to temples and churches as children from all faiths study there. “Some students from another school had also visited the mosque,” he said. “I do not know why I have been suspended.”
The police have called Gaonkar, and the Vasco unit secretary of the Students Islamic Organisation of India, Abdul Rehman K, to record their statements, reported The Times of India.
Rehman said the programme was organised to emphasise that all religions share common values and goals. “The visit will boost mutual understanding between students of different faiths and cultures and enhance their understanding and appreciation of religions and their practices,” he said.
Asif Hussain, state president, Jammat-e-Islami Hind, parent body of Student Islamic Organisation of India Goa zone also denied the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s allegations.
“A workshop had been organised for students at Masjid-E-Noor in Dabolim as part of our routine initiatives to promote communal harmony and for a better understanding between communities,” he said. “Such events at the mosque have been an annual feature and often students visit of their own accord. The school students were shown the area where prayers are conducted and they were given sweets.”