The principal of Keshav Smruti Higher Secondary School in Goa, Shankar Gaonkar, has been suspended by the school management following allegations made by Hindu organizations. The organizations claim that Gaonkar allowed students to visit a mosque, where they were allegedly forced to wear hijabs.
The controversy emerged after a Muslim organization approached the school with an invitation for its students to attend an educational workshop. According to Shailesh Zingade, Director of the Directorate of Education, an explanation has been sought from the school management regarding the incident.
After an investigation into the matter, it was revealed that four girls from the school were encouraged to wear hijabs during the mosque visit, a request they refused. Additionally, eight religious leaders (Maulanas) reportedly conducted presentations on their faith during the workshop.
Chairman of Keshav Smruti Higher Secondary School, Pandurang Korganokar, confirmed the suspension of Principal Shankar Gaonkar, citing a preliminary inquiry into the situation. Korganokar said that the school had received an invitation from a Muslim organization to attend an educational workshop. The workshop was attended by 22 students, including two Hindu and two Christian girls, as well as students from a government higher secondary school. Some of the students wore scarves upon entering the mosque, which was said to be in accordance with their respective traditions.
Korganokar said that the students were not compelled to wear scarves but rather chose to do so voluntarily. He explained that the organization had organized a program titled “Mosque Open for All,” which was intended to be an educational workshop for students.
In response to the allegations and controversy, Korganokar expressed regret and issued apologies to various groups, including the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu organizations, whose sentiments had been hurt. He stressed that the principal’s intentions were not malicious and that he had sent the students to the workshop with educational objectives in mind.
On Monday, members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) filed a formal complaint with the police in Vasco. They alleged that the school principal was “supporting anti-national activities”. Their contention was that the workshop in question had been arranged at the invitation of an organization connected to the banned Popular Front of India.
Principal Shankar Gaonkar stated that a visit to a mosque in Dabolim was arranged upon receiving an invitation from the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) with the aim of fostering communal harmony.
“Additionally, students from a government school in Baina were invited to participate. In total, 21 students from our school, including three female students and one teacher, attended the mosque visit. During the visit, the students were provided with information about the areas where prayers are conducted within the mosque and were familiarized with the entrance and exit points,” he said.
“Some students may have voluntarily covered their heads as a sign of respect,” he said, refuting the claim that students were forced to wear hijabs or participate in any religious rituals.
“In the past also, we have organised visits of students to temples, churches and mosques. 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,” Gaonkar told The Indian Express.
Asif Hussain, state president of Jammat-e-Islami Hind, the parent body of the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), Goa zone, which had organised the workshop, said, “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. 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. All these claims [of religious conversion] are baseless.”