Bangalore, Aug. 1: Activists from radical Hindu outfit Sri Ram Sene entered a Mangalore school and disrupted an Arabic class on Saturday, alleging the teacher was indoctrinating the mostly Hindu pupils in "Islamic fundamentalism".
Melwyn Braggs, headmaster of the St Thomas Aided Higher Primary School, said the school was merely holding optional Arabic classes for its Class VI and VII students at their parents' request to improve their future job prospects in the Gulf.
"I'm a Christian, why should I encourage the teaching of Islamic fundamentalism in my school?" Braggs said.
Three of the intruders were arrested on Sunday on trespass charges after the school identified them as its former pupils. Mangalore police commissioner M. Chandra Shekar said efforts were on to arrest the leaders of the plot.
The Sene had shot to the limelight in 2009 by attacking pub-going women in Mangalore city, about 350km from Bangalore. Since then, it has been combating Valentine's Day celebrations and other alleged Western influences along with the Bajrang Dal.
Around 40 Sene activists had barged into the Kannada-medium school, run by a Christian trust, at 9.45am and disrupted the weekly Arabic class before being persuaded to leave half an hour later, Braggs said.
He said the school would continue teaching Arabic.
"We used to hold optional classes in German, French, Arabic and karate till last year," Braggs said.
"But the parents suggested that focusing on Arabic was better as many local people seek jobs in the Gulf. We retained karate as a weekly physical activity."
Southern Karnataka, mainly Mangalore and its suburbs, has for years provided the Gulf with skilled and semi-skilled workers.
"Only 40 of the 59 students in the two classes (VI and VII) have opted to learn Arabic. We allow the rest to stay back in their classrooms and study," Braggs said.
Anand Shetty, the Sene's Mangalore president, who was out of town, said over the phone that the organisation objected not to the Arabic lessons but the external teacher from a madarsa who was imparting them.
"Lots of schools teach Arabic in this region. We don't object to that. The issue here was about hiring a religious teacher to give the lessons to non-Muslim students," he said. "How objective can an Islamic teacher be while teaching Arabic?"
Braggs said his school, unlike some others, could not afford to hire a permanent teacher for Arabic or karate as the government paid the salaries only of those who teach the regular state board subjects.
On the other hand, aided schools are barred from charging fees from students. "We have to pay them (Arabic and karate teachers) from our own limited resources," Braggs said.
Arabic teacher Abdul Qader's mobile was switched off.
Mangalore is a communally sensitive city where both radical Hindu and Muslim outfits are active.
Sene and Bajrang Dal members have in the past been involved in vigilantism against the so-called "Love Jihad", an alleged trend of Muslim boys attracting Hindu girls.
A radical Muslim group, the Popular Front of India, has been accused of tit-for-tat targeting of Hindu or Christian boys befriending Muslim girls.