A feeling of being watched would take over once you step on the premises of Piyar Sattar Latif High School at Kallyandi, a remote village in Narayanganj.
The school where its headmaster was beaten up and humiliated publicly in the presence of the local lawmaker five days ago is now under guard by people who seemed very keen on establishing one narrative: how AKM Selim Osman MP had “saved” headmaster Shyamal Kanti Bhakta's life.
Many of them came to the school in Kalagachhiya union of Bandar area on motorbikes and cars from Narayanganj city. They were all bent on making sure that no other voice apart from theirs reached the media. When The Daily Star correspondents entered the school yesterday morning, a few dozen pairs of eyes were on them.
Joined by some villagers, the people were split into a few groups of 10 to 15. They gathered on the ground and were discussing how the media “ran a smear campaign against the MP instead of praising him for saving the life of Shyamal, who made disparaging remarks about religion”.
“Are you in the media? What are you going to write? Write what we tell you to write,” said a middle-aged man in a white shirt and denims with a key ring dangling from his index finger.
Another man joined in and said, “The way people were infuriated [by the “disparaging remarks of the head teacher”], they would have killed the headmaster for sure. It was the MP's presence of mind that had saved the teacher from being killed by the mob.”
He suddenly changed the topic and expressed his hatred of journalists. “We can't let the journalists run the smear campaign against our lawmaker. We have to do something. If needed, we will wage a movement.”
Another man came forward. Clad in a panjabi and lungi, he said, “Let the journalists write whatever they want. As long as we remain united, nothing can harm us.”
The school has been closed for summer since Saturday, a day after a mob beat up Shyamal and made him do squats holding his ears. Locals that day had been herded by an announcement through a mosque's loudspeaker saying the headmaster had hurt the religious sentiment of the Muslims while he meted out punishment to a class-X student.
Despite it being a holiday, the schoolyard was teeming with people yesterday. Only two teachers were seen in the teachers' room, but neither wanted to speak.
“I don't know anything about the incident,” one of them said when asked about Friday's incident. He hurriedly locked the teachers' room and shot a glance at his colleague. “What are you doing here? Leave immediately.”
Both the teachers walked away hastily.
The class-X student, whose mother on May 12 lodged a complaint with the school committee against the headmaster, was at the school along with his mother and sister.
His mother also spoke in tune with the people gathered there. “Do also write that he [headmaster] insulted our religion,” she told The Daily Star.
Asked if she mentioned in her complaint the allegation that the headmaster hurt their religious sentiment, she said, “I didn't mention it because I didn't hear him making such remarks. It was my son who heard it.”
Many people at the school complained that Shyamal was in the habit of beating up students mercilessly.
However, a college student, who passed SSC exams from the school last year, said he did not see the headmaster beat up students.
“He was strict but he used to help students in their studies a lot,” he added.
The Daily Star tried to talk to some villagers outside the school. But most of them would not speak, apparently fearing reprisal.
Around the bend of the road, The Daily Star correspondents met an elderly person who was present during the public humiliation of Shyamal. He spoke up apparently being assured that there was nobody nearby.
“The whole thing was staged,” said the man aged over 60, wishing not to be named.
He insisted that Shyamal was not the kind of person who would make derogatory comments about religion. “He has no such records. I know him well and I know he cannot say anything like that.”
He said he along with some other elderly villagers went to the complainant's house near the school following her request.
“She told them that she wants arbitration as the headmaster beat up her child. But she didn't say anything about the teacher hurting religious sentiment of the Muslims.
“When we went to the arbitration on Friday, we suddenly heard an announcement over loudspeakers that the headmaster had hurt religious sentiment. Within an hour, the school ground had hundreds of people,” he said.
He demanded the authorities concerned launch a probe to find who had ordered the announcement when the arbitration was only about settling the issue of beating up of the student.
His demand was met yesterday.
A fresh five-member committee was formed to probe the incident, said UNO Mousumi Habib, reports UNB.
The elderly man around the corner said some influential members of the school's committee had been talking behind the teacher's back over the last couple of years. He had even recommended Shyamal leave before things got worse.
A couple of years ago, a rift in the school committee developed over a fund of Tk 50 lakh intended for infrastructure building. Some committee members were envious of the headmaster as he handled the fund. They even accused the teacher of misappropriating a portion of the money, said the local.
The school managing committee has suspended the headmaster.
Talking to this newspaper, Shyamal yesterday said he received a letter signed by Farukul Islam, chairman of the committee.
The letter said he was suspended because “he physically tortured students, received money in the name of teachers' appointment, made derogatory comments about Islam, remained absent without leave and used to be late at work”.
Signed by committee chairman Farukul on Monday, it said the suspension decision was made on Friday.