Social media rumours and political pressure lead to teacher's suspension in Mangaluru school controversy

(Photo: Unsplash/Nikhita S)

A major controversy erupted at St. Gerosa English Higher Primary School in Mangaluru after a teacher was accused of making derogatory remarks about Hinduism and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during class.

The allegations surfaced on Saturday when a voice message from a parent circulated on social media claiming that Sr. Prabha, a teacher at the school, spoke in a derogatory manner about Hinduism, Lord Rama, and the Prime Minister while teaching a Class 7 lesson on “work is worship.”

Without establishing the veracity of the social media rumour, Hindutva organisations like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal launched protests demanding action against the teacher. On February 12, they held a demonstration at the zilla panchayat office asking the Deputy Director of Public Instruction (DDPI) to sack Sr. Prabha.

Later, protesters including the VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagarana Vedike and Mangaluru City South Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), D. Vedavyasa Kamath gathered near the school premises. They raised inflammatory slogans against the teacher and sought her dismissal based solely on the unverified audio clip.

After nearly three hours of protest, MLA Kamath threatened the school headmistress Sr. Anitha that he would intensify the agitation if she did not immediately remove the teacher. With no inquiry conducted yet, the headmistress was forced to announce Sr. Prabha's suspension under duress.

Amidst the conflicting narratives and allegations, the Education Department has initiated an inquiry to ascertain the facts surrounding the incident. In a written statement, Sr. Anitha said the Catholic minority school will cooperate fully with the district administration's investigation and abide by its outcome. However, she accused MLA Kamath of forcibly extracting the suspension without due process, by mobilising a mob and threatening disruption.

Importantly, based on a complaint filed by a parent named Sharath Kumar, the Karnataka police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Sr. Prabha over the alleged remarks. The school also dismissed the teacher stating it does not condone such conduct.

On February 15, the headmistress reiterated in a press release that Sr. Prabha was merely explaining a Rabindranath Tagore poem about god dwelling in hearts, not temples. She pointed out that the teacher had no prior complaints in her years of service and alleged the entire row appears fabricated to tarnish the school's secular image.

The teachers' union has come out strongly in support of Sr. Prabha, calling the allegations against her baseless. They have threatened protests if the seasoned teacher is denied justice. Parents are split - some uphold the school's secular legacy while others demand the teacher's dismissal over the alleged remarks.

The Catholic minority school has maintained it respects all faiths equally. With police and education department inquiries underway, the facts of the case will soon come to light. But the episode has caused upheaval in the otherwise peaceful school known for its secular outlook. As conflicting narratives swirl and political posturing intensifies, the reputation of a school that has shaped Mangaluru's education landscape for 60 years hangs in the balance.