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This was like no other school sports day. Instead of running races and high jumps, the students of this school in Dakshina Kannada’s Kalladka trained their efforts to re-enact the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Clips of the so called play went viral on social media.
But such controversies are not new to the school or the Sri Rama Vidyakendra Trust that runs it. RSS functionary Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat who heads the trust is one of the most polarising figures in this part of coastal Karnataka. The RSS strongman is known for his provocative speeches and open support for acts of moral policing.
This March, Bhat was booked after in one speech he accused the then food minister UT Khader of visiting a temple and sought an explanation on how a Muslim minister was allowed to enter temples. “Has the priest lost his mind that he welcomed him with a ceremonial reception with betel leaves on a platter,” asked Bhat, seeking cleansing of the temple.
The Sri Rama Vidya Kendra in Kalladka started out as a Bhajana mandali in the small village in 1980. Now, it is a school spread across 20 acres with hostel facilities, claims the trust website. The trust runs five institutions, from playschool to a degree college, in Kalladka.
Kalladka, which lies on the Mangaluru-Bengaluru highway in Dakshina Kannada district, is an RSS stronghold. The school, as well as other institutions of the trust, cater to these children of these Sangh supporters. The school follows the Karnataka State Board syllabus, but also teaches its students about Indian culture based on the RSS ideology. The buildings on the school premises are named after Hindu gods and goddesses.
As a result, there have been some run-ins with the government. In August 2017, the Siddaramaiah government cancelled financial aid for mid-day meals at two of the trust’s schools resulting in protest from parents and teachers. Soon, BJP leaders like Shobha Karandlaje were protesting in support of the schools. This prompted the government to suggest that the schools take advantage of its Akshara Dasoha scheme to provide meals to the children, but the school refused. In June 2018, the school management agreed to be part of the scheme.
The trust’s institutions have over the years welcomed Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev, PM Narendra Modi’s brother Soma Modi, former Karnataka minister and mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and former ISRO chairperson AS Kiran Kumar. On December 15, when the annual Kreedotsava was taking place, Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi was among the guests, along with Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers DV Sadananda Gowda and Karnataka Minister for Women and Child Welfare Shashikala Jolle.
The annual Kreedotsava attracts people from nearby areas and includes yoga displays, plays on various social issues, skits on recent developments like the Chandrayaan mission, along with some sports by the students. Principal Krishna Prasad said the students perform various sports activities and plays. “This year, we had a skit on Chandrayaan-2 launch which showed how Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoled ISRO chairman K Sivan. In 2014, the students had enacted a skit on Mangalyaan. Last year, the skits were on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Veer Savarkar’s life and about the Sardar Patel statue,” he added.
This year, the children also reenacted the demolition of Babri Masjid. The play started with a portrayal of L K Advani’s 1990 rathyatra and ended with recent Supreme Court order that gave disputed Ayodhya land to Hindus to build a Ram temple. In the video, more than a hundred students, dressed in white shirts and saffron dhotis and holding saffron flags, are seen rushing towards a poster of the Babri Masjid as the narrator describes the event on a loudspeaker. The narrator says in Kannada: “They demolish the structure with anything they can get their hands on. With enthusiasm, Hanuman bhaktas with Hanuman’s anger, demolish the Babri structure.” With the narrator calling out ‘Bolo Shri Ramachandra ki Jai!, Bharath Mata ki Jai!’, the poster of the Babri Masjid is brought down by students. At this point, students and audience members start cheering.
Prabhakar Bhat told indianexpress.com that there is nothing in the programme to create religious discord. “People on social media only picked up this part of the programme, our students also enacted the Chandrayaan-2 mission,” he added.
School president Satish Bhat Shivagiri too said there was “nothing communal” about the play. “The event was our annual sports day, where nearly 4,000 students participated and there were 20 presentations on various topics. One of them was on the Shri Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. There was nothing communal, the students were just enacting the developments on the Ram Mandir,” he said.
The Karnataka Police has booked four governing body members of the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School including Bhat on a complaint filed by a Popular Front of India (PFI) leader Aboobacker Siddique.
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