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Minister's `atheist' remark leads to opposition walkout

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A.K. Balan
A.K. Balan

Special Correspondent

Opposition threatens to boycott Power Minister A.K. Balan

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: An `atheist' remark by Electricity Minister A.K. Balan sparked vehement protests and a walkout in the Assembly on Friday.

Mr. Balan's `atheist' intervention came when Congress MLA K.C. Venugopal introduced the topic of `sex education in schools,' making critical remarks about the way the Education Department had handled the issue. He told the House that the contents of the `study module' for sex education were of a type that could "sow the seeds of sexual perversion in the impressionable minds of the children."

In reply, Education Minister M.A. Baby admitted there had been criticism about the module and said the Government had withdrawn it and would ask an expert panel to go into it and suggest changes. He even suggested including Mr. Venugopal in the panel, sending a ripple of laughter in the House.

At this stage, Mr. Balan got up and sought the permission of the Speaker to make an observation.

The Speaker permitted him.The laughter in the House died down completely by the time he had finished his second sentence. And the Opposition members were up on their feet by the time he had done with the fourth, in which he wanted the Speaker to "give a ruling" on his observations.

Vehement protests

They crowded near the front row of seats, vehemently protesting that Mr. Balan, "a Minister representing the Government itself, had made remarks calculated to hurt the sentiments of believers belonging to all religions."

At the height of the uproar, Mr. Balan said he had not meant to hurt the sentiments of the believers.

He said that if the Opposition was bent on giving such an interpretation to his observations, he was withdrawing them.

Speaker K. Radhakrishnan ruled the remarks as withdrawn, but the Opposition was not willing to accept it at that. Deputy Leader of the Opposition G. Karthikeyan wanted an unconditional apology from the Minister.

With Mr. Balan not responding to this demand, Mr. Karthikeyan led the Opposition members out of the House. Later, Mr. Karthikeyan told a press conference that the Opposition would boycott Mr. Balan during the current session of the Assembly. Though Mr. Balan belonged to the "atheist CPI(M)," he represented the entire people of Kerala, many of them believers, Mr. Karthikeyan said, adding that he had hurt the believers "by speaking about nudity among Gods."

Later at a press conference, Minister for Electricity A.K. Balan clarified that his statement in the Assembly about nudity in temples was not intended to hurt anyone.

The Minister said he had made no mention of idols or gods worshipped by millions of devotees in the sanctum sanctorum of temples.

His reference was to the view expressed in the House that the contents of the handbook for teachers published by the State Council for Education, Research and Training for giving sex education to children as indecent.

In this respect, his question was how those holding such opinions viewed the nude sculptures and murals in temples. "Did they see them as indecent?"

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