The Hindu teachers in Muslim-majority Bangladesh are being targeted in the name of religion for other issues, such as disputes with influential people, believe the educators and eminent citizens.
In one of the latest incidents, Swapan Kumar Biswas, acting principal of Mirzapur United College in Narail, was forced to wear a garland of shoes last week for what a mob of Muslim students and locals called is "an insult to Islam", the same reason cited in similar incidents in the past.
Another Hindu teacher, Utpal Kumar Sarker, was beaten to death in an attack by a student of class 10 at Haji Yunus Ali School and College in Savar earlier this week, an incident that sent a shockwaves across the communities of teachers and others.
Although the motive behind the murder was not clear, the family and police suspect he was targeted for correcting the student for sexually harassing female pupils.
Many believe their religion made them easy targets, especially in the case of Swapan.
In 2016, the incident of Narayanganj school teacher Shyamal Kanti Bhakta being made to do sit-ups holding his ears in public by Jatiya Party MP Salim Osman for allegedly insulting Islam led to widespread condemnation.
Speaking to bdnews24.com, now retired Shyamal called the continuation of such incidents “very unfortunate”. He blamed the abuse of power by the managing committees of the educational institutions and local politicians for this.
“The managing committees are mostly involved in dirty politics. The headmasters who follow ethics instead of taking money from them suffer the most. This is undesirable. Teachers are the backbone of a nation, the craftsmen of mankind. Such inhumane acts against them are very unfortunate.”
Recalling his days at his institution after the 2016 incident, Shyamal said, “I had to be careful while giving lessons. The classrooms used to remind me of the humiliation.”
“How will a teacher who has been forced to wear a garland of shoes give lessons normally? They will hesitate to do anything fearing insult at every step."
'CULTURE OF FEAR'
Science teacher Hriday Chandra Mondalwas arrested in Munshiganj in April on charges of hurting the religious feelings of students during a classroom discussion as a group of angry students and locals launched violent protests. He was released following widespread counter-protests across the country.
In the same month, Amodini Paul, an assistant headmistress of Daul Barbakpur High School in Naogaon’s Mohadevpur, corrected some students for not wearing uniforms. She faced the wrath of locals following rumours that she punished female Muslim students for wearing hijab.
Many teachers from the minority Hindu community fear such incidents may occur to them, a thought which prevents them from giving lessons normally.
Ashish Sarkar, the assistant headmaster of Tetla PGS Secondary School in Barishal’s Banaripara, said, “We'd never been rude to our teachers. But it's happening now [students attacking teachers]."
"We can’t correct our students for the fear of losing the job.”
However, Subrata Pal, the headmaster of Barat Girls' High School in Rajbari, said they were not much alarmed by these incidents. “The people of Rajbari live in communal harmony. Such incidents do not usually happen in our area.”
WHY HINDU TEACHERS ARE TARGETED
Fazle Hossain Badshah, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the education ministry, said, "We have been seeing for quite some time now that there is an attempt to create a communal situation by targeting minority teachers in the educational institutions across the country.”
He cited the Narail incident in the presence of police as an example of the "administration's indifference" and in some cases, he said, local administrations are "biased towards communal forces".
Professor Neem Chandra Bhowmik, a member of the presidium of the Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council, believes religious fanatics, extremists and communal groups in the society are trying to create such tensions whenever they get a chance, where they are targeting minorities and torture them.
"They start it with a mere [Facebook] status. They can inform the administration. But they can't do awful things like making them hold their ears or putting a garland of shoes around their necks.”
Father Tapan Camillus De Rozario, associate professor at the Department of World Religion and Culture at Dhaka University, said, "These incidents are happening to the minority community likely because of animosity from the past, not for faith in religion."
“If we analyse the findings of the investigations, we will see that some of the reasons behind the incidents were different [from religious ones]. Overall, there is hatred and intimidation.”
He called for proper investigations to find out whether the incidents were related to local politics or were orchestrated to destroy communal harmony. "If we could bring out the people behind these, then we could have found the root of it.”
“Nothing is happening suddenly. I think these are planned events. We do not want to see this kind of politics, bigotry. We have to stop a repetition of attacks capitalising on religion," said Sadeka Halim, a professor of sociology at Dhaka University.
Demanding that local MPs be held accountable for these incidents, Sadeka said, “Politics is becoming different at the local level. MPs belong to the school management committee, and the governing committee. Don't they know that their constituency is changing, evil forces are getting strong?"
"We are also becoming silent, not protesting. Teachers in Narail could have protested at the time of the incident, but they did not.”
[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]