12:00 AM, July 14, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 14, 2011

Viqarunnisa in crisis

Politics slips into the top school; education board dissolves governing body hours after a faction removes principal

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Wasim Bin Habib

The crisis at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, triggered by a sexual assault scandal, deepened further yesterday after Dhaka Education Board dissolved its governing body and appointed an ad hoc committee headed by the Dhaka deputy commissioner.
The dissolution came hours after a faction of the 10-member governing body announced the removal of the well-reputed institution's principal Husne Ara Begum. Another faction immediately denounced the decision terming it illegal.
Husne Ara told The Daily Star that the meeting was called "illegally" and she remains the principal. Acting Chairman of the governing body Dilip Roy echoed the principal.
The school seems to be getting involved into the country's political conflict after BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia welcomed the so-called action against Husne Ara.
"The principal of the school has been sacked today [yesterday]. But, it is not enough. The persons involved in the incident should be sacked and given severe punishment," said Khaleda while addressing her party's hunger strike programme in the capital yesterday.
The controversy has caused worries among students and their guardians as the institution is preparing to hold important examinations for both its school and college sections from July 23.
The 59-year-old school plunged into trouble after a class-X female student of its Bashundhara branch accused Porimol Joydhor, a Bangla teacher of the branch, of sexually attacking her at his coaching centre in Badda.
The news sparked protests among students and guardians who took to the streets to demand Porimol's arrest and his exemplary punishment.
The protests continued even after Porimol's arrest on July 6 and his confession later to a magistrate that he committed the offence. He is now in Dhaka Central Jail.
The student's family filed a case with Badda Police Station accusing Porimol of violating her. It also accused Principal Husne Ara and Bashundhara branch-in-charge Lutfur Rahman of suppressing the allegations against Porimol and making delay in taking action against him.
The principal denied the allegations saying the school authorities took prompt action against Porimol and dismissed him. In a statement this week, she also demanded that Porimol be punished for his alleged assault on the student.
Husne Ara, also member secretary of the governing body, alleged that some members of the governing body were targeting her with a political motive.
She was the principal of Azimpur Girls School before getting appointed as principal of the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College last year.
The students bear the brunt of the crisis, as the two factions feeding to the controversies cause disruption to academic activities.
The trouble has hit the country's premier educational institution of nearly 12,000 students ahead of half-yearly examinations for the school students and pre-tests for the college section.
Even though the problem originated at Bashundhara branch, its fallout has hit the main campus at Bailey Road. Principal Husne Ara has not been attending office on the main campus for about a week. She claimed that she is running the administration from her home over the phone.
"We are worried about our children's education," said Sharmin Aktar, a guardian of a class-VIII student of the school.
"We don't want our children's future to be destroyed by a controversy over the principal," she said.
Wishing anonymity, another guardian said, “We have sent our children to this prestigious school to get better education. We want this renowned school to take care of our children's education and nothing else.”
Jakirul Islam, a member of the governing body, yesterday convened a meeting of the governing body on the school's Bailey road campus. Four other members attended the meeting.
The meeting was held in the absence of the governing body chairman and lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon, who is on a visit to the USA. Acting Chairman Dilip Roy was also absent.
In a hurriedly called press conference at the school, Jakirul, also former assistant personal secretary to BNP Chief Khaleda Zia, said Husne Ara has been sacked as the principal for "protecting the accused teacher and suppressing the allegations.”
He named Ambia Khatun, a senior teacher, as the acting principal. Jakirul said Principal Husne Ara is being backed by Menon and Roy.
He claimed his faction acted lawfully. “We have taken this decision to save the institution considering the current situation,” he said. Besides, the principal's absence from school largely disrupted the administrative activities, he added.
Dozens of students, teachers and guardians were also present at the news conference.
Roksana Shamim, a teacher of the school on its main campus, told the news conference that Principal Husne Ara first ignored their demand that accused teacher Porimal be fired and punished.
A student who did not identify herself alleged that the principal did not stand by the assaulted girl and those who demanded justice for her.
"We consider the principal as our mother. But she failed to live up to our expectations,” the girl said.
Meanwhile, Dilip Roy said the meeting, convened in absence of the chairman and the acting chairman, does not have legality.
"Without the chairman, the members cannot remove or appoint the principal. We are not in favour of Husne Ara. If she is guilty she would be punished. But the members did not follow the due process and rules."
Prof Fahima Khatun, chairman of Dhaka Education Board that controls the governing body, said the faction's meeting was not held in line with the rules, as none but the chairman and the member secretary can convene a meeting. The faction's decision was not proper, she added.
"We dissolved the governing body because we think the body failed to handle the situation properly," she said, adding that the tenure of the governing body has already expired and that it failed to hold a new election.
Fahima hoped that the new four-member ad hoc committee will take proper steps.
School sources said a section of teachers was unhappy about the appointment of the principal as she played a major role in introducing lottery system for grade-I admission which curbed the admission business to a great extent.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, however, said neither he nor his ministry knew anything about the sudden change at the helm announced by the school's governing body.
"The ministry was not informed about the decision of the removal [of Husne Ara]. I know nothing about it. But it's clear that there is chaos," he told reporters at his secretariat office.
He, however, said the crisis would be resolved by yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka Education Board yesterday formed a three-member committee headed by College Inspector Srikanta Chandra Chondo to look into the matter.

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