School principal suspended for taking students to mosque in Goa

Panaji (Goa): In a bizarre move, the principal of a private higher secondary school in the Indian state of Goa has been suspended for taking a group of Class 11 students to a mosque as part of an initiative to promote communal harmony.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the principal of Keshav Smurthi Higher Secondary School, Shankar Gaonkar, had taken the students to a mosque in Dabolim at the invitation of the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) as part of their campaign to promote communal harmony.

Soon after the images of students visiting the mosque went viral on social media, the Hindutva outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad filed a police complaint alleging that Gaonkar forced the female students to wear headscarves and perform Islamic rituals.

The SIO Zonal President, Usman Khan, in an interview said, “We have been organising such activity for several years. The ‘Visit Masjid’ program of SIO tries to do just that, bridging the gap between communities and promoting better understanding.”

The suspended principal told the media that a total of 21 students from the school, including three girl students and a teacher, were taken to the mosque. He said, the students were shown where the prayers were conducted and entry-exit areas to the mosque. He said, some students may have covered their heads out of respect and the claim that students were forced to wear hijab or perform rituals is false. He said that in the past, the school had also taken students to temples and churches as children from all faiths studied there.

Following a complaint from the Hindutva group, Vasco police have summoned the suspended principal, Shankar Gaonkar, and the Vasco unit secretary of SIO, Abdul Rehman K, to record their statements.

Meanwhile, the SIO urged the civil society to stand with “such initiatives which are aimed at creating a positive environment in the society”. It appealed to the management of the school to revoke the suspension of the principal.

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