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Kerala textbook row: headmaster killed

The agitation seeking withdrawal of Class VII social science textbook took a tragic turn on Saturday after a primary school headmaster was beaten to death...

The agitation seeking withdrawal of Class VII social science textbook took a tragic turn on Saturday after a primary school headmaster was beaten to death by a group of agitators in Malappuram in north Kerala. Violent incidents were reported from across several schools in the state. Even tiny tots were not spared in the battle as seven primary school students were reported injured in Idukki, after agitators entered their school.

According to the police, activists of Youth League, the youth outfit of the Indian Union Muslim League, stormed into a classroom at Kizhissery in Malappuram, where a teachers’ training programme was going on. James Augustine, 45, headmaster of AM Lower Primary School in Valillapuzha near Manjeri, was a participant at the programme. He was brutally beaten up by the Youth League men inside the classroom. He died in a hospital in the evening. The victim, according to his colleagues, had no political affiliations.

The unprecedented incident has evoked widespread grief and protest from all quarters. The death of the teacher, which is snowballing into a major controversy, is likely to change the track of the textbook agitation. The Students Federation of India, the student outfit of the CPM, has called for an educational bandh in Kerala on Monday.

Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan deplored the incident and said stringent action would be taken against the culprits.

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The agitation over the textbook, spearheaded by the Congress, the IUML and Christian organisations, had been staged on streets for the past one month. It entered schools on Friday, a day after the state Government decided to remove certain controversial portions in the textbook referring to atheism.

Unsatisfied by the Government’s climbdown on the issue, the Congress-led Opposition decided to intensify the agitation, demanding withdrawal of the textbook. On Friday, Youth League activists disrupted teachers’ training programmes in north Kerala districts. Several teachers were manhandled by Youth League workers in Malappuram.

On Saturday, the police had taken precautionary measures in many schools in the wake of a boycott call given by the Opposition-affiliated teachers’ unions. However, agitators disrupted the conduct of cluster meetings in many schools in the presence of the police.

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Scuffles between activists of Youth League and DYFI, the youth wing of the CPM, were reported from Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Alappuzha and Kasargode districts. Youth League activists laid siege to several schools and manhandled teachers participating in the training programme.

First published on: 20-07-2008 at 12:59:32 am
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