Amid a volatile communal sentiment prevailing in some pockets of the State, a Dabolim school became a subject of an unnecessary controversy after students, while on a workshop, were seen with hijabs in a mosque.
A higher secondary school based in Dabolim sent its students to a workshop at a masjid last week at the invitation of the Students Islamic Organisation of India. Photos going viral showed female students at the workshop wearing the traditional hijab while the male students performed other Muslim rituals of washing hands and feet. Ironically, parents have objected to students being exposed to Islamic practices, citing that they were not informed earlier. The incident has snowballed into a controversy, leading to the principal's suspension while Vasco police have questioned those involved.
There is, however, a worrying side to this issue. Goa has always been a State known for its communal harmony. Schools, whether the managements are of Catholic or Hindu background, have never shown an agenda to direct students towards a particular faith. That's been the hallmark of Goa's education system.
Goa has not heard of a single case where students complained that a different religious practice was being forced upon them at school. And so is the case in the Dabolim school incident, where no student reported being told to wear hijab forcefully or compulsorily.
Schools in Goa have never witnessed discords over religious teachings. A Hindu student dressed as Santa Claus during Christmas or playing the roles of Joseph and Mary has been accepted as much as a Catholic student playing the role of Ram, Sita or Krishna. Practices and rehearsals of these depictions may take weeks, but that cannot be construed as an attempt to misguide students to a path of different faith.
The curriculum or the extracurricular activities have never preached a particular religion, and parents across the spectrum have accepted that kind of schooling environment with open minds. The Students Islamic Organisation of India has reiterated that such initiatives have been solely to promote communal harmony and clear certain misunderstandings about Islam. There is nothing wrong in educating about a particular religion, whether Christianity, Hinduism or Islam, as long as a religion is not imposed on anyone. We, as a tolerant society, need to know where to draw that line.
Religion may be a part of a secular education programme, but there is a difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion. School discussions on religion must be neutral, objective and balanced so that religious freedom is not infringed upon. That being said, every activity cannot be put under the microscope.
The need of the hour is not to stir communal sentiments and provoke people by using religion as a tool. There is a certain amount of communal restlessness in the background, and we don't want hatred witnessed in some parts of the nation to spill into Goa. The government and education stakeholders, including school managements, must recognise that religion has become a susceptible topic. Extreme caution must be taken by engaging authorities, seeking permissions and informing parents and students about workshops or any other activity involving religion that is part of the learning process. The Dabolim incident fallout is a grim reminder of the uncertain times we are living in.