Students sporting tilak on their foreheads and amulets on their bodies were stopped by the Physical Instruction teacher of a Government-aided minority institution before they entered the school premises. The sacred threads and rakshas (amulets) worn for protection round the necks or arms were cut off, and the sindoor, tilak on the foreheads erased.
When agitated parents rushed to complain to Ms. Zarina Lotus, headmistress of the Muhammadiya Higher Secondary School, Sitharkottai, Ramanathapuram district, she reportedly claimed to be implementing the diktat of the District Collector, as per the version of Shri Ramesh (name changed), father of one of the affected children. The agitated parents accompanied by Shri Prabhakaran, district head of Hindu Makkal Katchi, met District Collector K Nandakumar and complained about the incident. But the District Collector not only justified his order, but challenged them to take the matter to the courts, as per the version reported by the Hindu Makkal Katchi leader.
Intrigued, the writer and some public minded citizens contacted headmistress Zarina Lotus over the telephone on January 21, 2014, and she again claimed that she was only obeying the orders of the District Collector. Ms. Lotus claimed that during a meeting of headmasters of high schools and higher secondary schools, the Collector had stated that the teachers should advise the students not to sport sacred threads or apply tilak or sport any object that would represent their religion. We sought to know the reason why the Collector would issue such an order.
The headmistress replied that since students come to school sporting religious symbols, at times quarrels ensue, and hence some students have been sent to Reformation Schools. Policemen in mufti who have been keeping watch on the trouble had reported that the raison d’etre behind these quarrels were the religious symbols; they listed the schools where such incidents had occurred.
Accordingly, we sent an e-mail to Shri K Nandakumar on January 22, but have received no reply till the time of writing. His personal assistant, Shri Dharman, said the District Collector was busy and could be contacted later, and disconnected the telephone. Subsequent attempts to contact him failed.
The actions of the District Collector raise certain pertinent questions. If there is no protection for the students sporting religious symbols, has Ramanathapuram become Afghanistan? If the order covers all religious symbols, why did the District Collector not advise removal of skull caps and veils? Sporting of religious symbols is a fundamental right. Who gave the District Collector the license to snatch this right?
As citizens, we have a right to know exactly which schools experienced clashes on the issue of students sporting religious symbols. Were these troubles spontaneous or instigated? And who were the students sent to the Reformation Schools? Did the school authorities take any action to prevent the clashes, and were any teachers associated with these occurrences?
If we presume that the District Collector’s action reflects an admittance of extreme intolerance in the Ramanathapuram, what action has Shri Nandakumar taken against those indulging in religious extremism and those who have instigated or supported such incidents? Is the Collector admitting that he cannot protect Hindu students in the district?
Can Shri Nandakumar next order the snapping of the mangalsutra of Hindu women? Has the situation in Ramanathapuram really degenerated to such a level that Taliban-style rules are being implemented here, at par with countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan? The Government is duty-bound to stop the terrorising and victimization of young students, rather than caving in cravenly to irrational demands smacking of cultural jihad.
Instead, it has resorted to appeasement. There is a ban on beating of drums in Amman temples, and the traditional routes of temple processions are frequently changed. When Hindus protested against the slaying of a cow near a temple in Azhagan Kulam village, a case was filed against the Hindus!
On the other hand, no action was taken against those who broke the memorial pillar of Swami Vivekananda in the district. There was no punitive action against those who hoisted the national flag tied to slippers in village Pudhumadam. The signboards announcing a ban on non-Muslims entering the village and banning the playing of songs by vehicles on public roads have not been removed. No action was taken against fundamentalists from the area and other States who underwent arms training at Periyapatnam.
The cumulative impact of all these developments, according to the local people, is that Ramanathapuram is fast turning into a mini-Kashmir. What is most hurtful about the whole episode is that the district administration that is responsible for the prevention of such atrocities is supportive of these destructive forces.
Both the Central and State Governments need to wake up to the dangerous conditions prevailing in Ramanathapuram and take steps on a war footing to save the district from succumbing to separatist and fundamentalist forces. Hindus too must raise their voices against the injustices being meted out to Hindus of Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu.