“I did no wrong, stand by my decision”, says Goa school principal suspended over allegations that girl students “were made to wear hijab” and ‘perform Islamic rituals’

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By Our Correspondent

Mumbai— Days after Shankar Dabonkar, principal of Keshav Smruti Higher Secondary School in Vasco, Goa was suspended for allowing a group of students to attend a visit a mosque programme organised by Students Islamic Organization (SIO)’ Vasco unit in Goa, the principal has said he stands by his decision as he “did no wrong.”

Activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and a few other Hindutva organizations put pressure on the school management last week to suspend the principal, alleging that the girl students “were made to wear a hijab” and “perform Islamic rituals.”

The girls who visited the mosque have denied that they were forced to wear hijab or chant Islamic rituals. Defending the principal and demanding revocation of his suspension, the girls have reportedly said that ‘they put their dupattas on head” while visiting the mosque in order to maintain the sanctity of the place of worship.

In all 22 students from Keshav Smruti Higher Secondary Shool, four of them girls, had joined a group of students from another school, to the visit of a mosque last week. One female and one male teacher had accompanied the students to the mosque’s visit programme, said the principal.

The principal said that this was not the first time that his students had visited a mosque. “Before Covid, a group of my students had participated in such a programme. I have done no wrong as no rules were violated,” said the principal. He, added that some organizations pressurised the school management to suspend him even when the management kept telling the protestors that due process of law would be followed before any action was initiated against him.

“The management was not even allowed to give me a showcause notice before serving me suspension order. Even today the girls who had visited mosque sat on dharna and demanded that my suspension be revoked,” the principal said.

“Students Visit Mosque (SVM)” is a programme SIO, the student wing of Jamat-e-Islami, started in 2013. It was suspended for three years due to Covid. Through this initiative, said Yunus Mulla, State Secretary of SIO in Goa, non-Muslims are invited to visit mosques where they are explained the rituals of wazu (ablutions), azaan and namaz.

“This is an effort to explain to non-Muslims what actually happens in the mosque. Many have a wrong notion that Muslims praise emperor Akbar while they call faithful to the mosque in azaan. We explain that Allah Akbar is a praise for Allah or God and not an acclaim for emperor Akbar,” said Mulla.

Mulla added that the SIO in Goa has explained to the media that, contrary to what VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva organization’s allegations that SIO have any linked with banned PFI, the SIO is a student organization striving to promote communal harmony and peaceful coexistence. Students Visit Masjid is one such programme of the organization, added Mulla.

The principal’s suspension in a Goa school over a “trivial issue has flabbergasted many. Former minority affairs minister and senior Congress leader in Maharashtra Arif Naseem Khan slammed the Hindutva bodies for their “goondagardi (ruckus), demanded immediate revocation of the principal’s suspension and strict action against the groups “trying to foment communal riots.”

“The school principal did nothing wrong as it has been part of our Indian culture to visit places of worship of one community by another. If the girls visited a mosque and they are saying they covered their heads with their own dupattas, what is wrong in that?, ” asked Khan.

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