Story of an MP and a teacher
Most of our greatest politicians were parliamentarians like AK Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Dhirendranath Datta, Ataur Rahman Khan, not to mention Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, M Mansur Ali and many others. As a son of a parliamentarian, I remember vividly the pride with which my father, Abul Mansur Ahmad, spoke about his being a member of this august body which was located in Karachi of what was then West Pakistan. I have vague memories of the weeks and months of preparation he would subject himself to before a session would start and the speeches and the bills he would submit or support or oppose in any particular session. In those days there was a general awe about members of parliament, for they were the lawmakers. It is on them that the future direction of the country and its people would come from. Speeches made in parliament became documents of history to be treasured by the succeeding generations to read and learn from.
Much before Bangalees became parliamentarians, they became teachers. In fact, historically Bangalee culture, literature and folklore revered teachers more than the people of any other profession. It was the dream of most of the good students to grow up to be a teacher as it was a glorified profession, if not the most glorified of all. It was an honour to be called a teacher. He or she (though there were very few female teachers) would be a part of every society, club or group that would be formed for any social activity. In almost every village, a teacher would be the natural leader of that community to whom everybody would turn to for guidance on every conceivable issue -- from what to plant this season to what medicine to take for any ailment to how to solve problems with relatives. He was the centre of his community.
In our own student life, a teacher was a man of reverence and respect. Later as we passed out of the university, my friends who were far brighter and more competent than myself all went on to become teachers either here or abroad. I recall feeling somewhat jealous hearing stories of how their former students would leave everything aside to rush to help them in any way they could and would actually feel privileged for being able to do so.
But these are stories of old times.
Now we have a new one about the two above-mentioned professions that we once revered so much. A member of the current parliament forced a serving teacher (headteacher) to repeatedly "stand and squat holding his ears with his two hands" (kan dhorey uth bosh kora) till he was too tired to continue, and fell down. Only a Bangalee can comprehend the severity of this punishment. Culturally, there cannot be a more humiliating act that one can be forced to perform in public. This is the most shameful, disrespectful and humiliating punishment that one can subject another to. This is what is done when we want to rob a person of all his sense of dignity and self respect. (This can only be compared to the notion of "losing face" in Japanese, Korean or other cultures).
It is more so for a teacher. What is a teacher if he does not command respect of his pupils? How can he face his students unless there is a relationship of dignity with those he teaches? What the MP has done is destroy forever this teacher's capacity to face his students with self respect. He may be forced to continue in his job because of pecuniary considerations but his life as a teacher is all but destroyed.
A natural question that arises is does the MP have a right to do what he did? Even the most hardened of criminals have a right to a due process of law before being punished. Here, the teacher was meted out a punishment -- the cruelest that can be for a teacher -- by a public representative who should have known well what impact such an act is likely to have on a teacher. That is of course if he has enough sensitivity to appreciate the status of a teacher.
The MP's explanation is equally astounding. He said he had to humiliate the teacher to "save his life". The choice, according to him, was between the teacher's dignity and life. How credible is the MP's claim? Other teachers of the school have stated that the headteacher did not say anything of the sort that the MP used as an excuse to do what he did. The imam of the nearest mosque asserted that he did not recognise the accusers, meaning these people may well be from outside the locality.
As far as we have been able to collect, the story is this: The teacher punished a student on May 8 and made a comment critical of Islam, which the teacher outright denies. The next day, the boy's family lodged a verbal complaint with the school managing committee, saying the teacher beat up their son. There was no mention of the alleged derogatory comments about Islam. On May 12, the family filed a written complaint over the alleged beating. Again, there was no mention of any remark about Islam.
The public shaming of the teacher came on May 13, from out of the blue. As if that was not enough, it now emerges that the school managing committee made a unanimous decision on the very day to suspend the teacher on grounds of torturing students, receiving money in the name of teachers' appointment, making derogatory comments about Islam and taking leave without permission. Interestingly, the suspension order was signed only on May 16 and it became public yesterday.
But why now? And on what basis? We have no knowledge that this teacher was served with any notice to explain the allegations brought against him. Why didn't the managing committee suspend him, say, a month ago or two months ago? Is the managing committee trying to save someone now that an MP and his men are drawing widespread criticism for humiliating the teacher?
We call on the education ministry to launch a thorough investigation of the whole matter.
There are four issues that concern us: the mysterious suspension of the teacher, the highhandedness of the MP, the public humiliation of a teacher, and finally the use of religion to instigate mob anger against a member of a minority community leading to a situation where the MP had to humiliate him "to save him". While the first three must be addressed adequately, it is the fourth that warrants urgent attention and firm action.
To us, it is a clear case of a motivated group spreading a dangerous rumour of an alleged insult to religion to create a mob frenzy to force a member of another religion to plead for mercy to save his life. If we take the MP's claim at face value, then the mob was ready to kill the teacher for a so-called "insult" that, as far as we can tell, never occurred.
Can we imagine the implication of this incident for all the teachers of minority communities in all the schools in the country? This is a deliberate attempt to weaken communal harmony and create fear in the minds of religious minorities. All of us, especially the ruling party and its government, must see the wider implications of such acts and act urgently and concertedly. Just saying that all these are "isolated incidents" can only isolate us from the danger that we may be facing.