In contrast to the Prime Minister’s ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ call, the Karnataka government has been accused of encouraging the demolition of the state’s first girl’s school, built 140 years ago in response to a call from Swami Vivekananda to the then Maharaja of Mysore.
While the local Ramakrishna Ashram wants to build a 100-feet tall statue of Swami Vivekananda at the place where the New Type Middle School (NTMS) stands, a group of academicians, historians and social activists have launched an agitation opposing the move and sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention into the matter.
The school traces its origin to Swami Vivekananda, who had written a letter to the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadiyar, thanking him for the help given to him to take up the journey to deliver the historical speech in Chicago.
In that letter, he had mentioned that the condition of people, especially the poor in India, is deplorable, and since foreigners did not care for their upliftment, education should be used as a tool for their elevation.
Inspired by the words of Swami Vivekananda, Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar had established the NTMS on the Narayanashastri Road. Since then, thousands of girls have studied in this heritage institution and went on to occupy respectable positions.
Now the Ramakrishna Ashram is planning to build a memorial of Swami Vivekananda at the same spot, which will be an inspirational centre for personality development. The project is said to be coming up with help from the Central and state governments.
The move came after the Karnataka government passed an order on January 9, 2013, permitting the Ramakrishna Ashram to set up the Swami Vivekananda memorial at the NTMS site. Accordingly, the land was handed over to the Ashram.
However, the NTMS Trust comprising academicians and other dignitaries who run the school raised objections to the move. They immediately launched a series of agitations, saying that they have no objections to building Swami Vivekananda’s statue or the memorial, but opposed the demolition of the historical school.
As many as 60 students belonging to oppressed classes and poor backgrounds are studying in the school from first to tenth standard. It is said that the number of students has dwindled as there is talk of demolition if the government announces its support for the project.
“I appeal to the Prime Minister of India to protect the interests of the girl students with due respect to historical legacy and human rights protection of students. Let him sincerely implement his ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ scheme, which was already implemented by the Maharaja of Mysore under the noble guidance of Swami Vivekananda,” said activist B.P. Mahesh Chandra Guru, one of the close associates of the school.
Meanwhile, Swami Muktidanandaji of Ramkrishna Ashram has maintained in a press note that handing over the school to the ashram for the construction of Viveka Memorial is within the law. The state government should vacate the NTMS by transferring the students to the nearby government schools, he noted.
However, K.S. Bhagavan, an activist, stated, “Whatever he may say, we object to it. We can not allow the institution which lived for 140 years to be closed down. We strongly stand by the decision that the school must be retained. It should never be destroyed.”
The activists also suspect the building of a full-scale commercial hub in the heart of the city on the pretext of Viveka Memorial.
BJP leaders, including MP Pratap Simha and former Union minister Srinivas Prasad, have extended their support for the memorial as it is the Union government’s decision to develop the sites that Swami Vivekananda had visited across India as part of his 150th birth anniversary.
However, the state government is yet to take a call on the issue as it has run into controversy.
District Commissioner Gautam Bugatti told IANS, “There was a high court order. It is under consideration of the government. We are yet to get written instructions in this regard. The situation is evolving. As soon as we get instructions from the government, we will carry them out.”
Meanwhile, the Aam Admi Party (AAP), Communist groups, Dalit organisations and social activists are taking turns to register their protests against the proposal of demolishing the school.
The activists claim that they have adopted the school children to support them financially as their parents can’t afford all the requirements.
“If the memorial is built, it will be on our graves. We are preparing to take the case to the Supreme Court. Until then, the state must not take a hasty decision,” said an activist.