Why are teachers being targeted?
On March 20, Hriday Chandra Mondal, a science teacher of Binodpur Ram Kumar High School in Munshiganj, was publicly harassed and sent to jail for allegedly hurting religious sentiment.
On June 17, students and locals forced Swapan Kumar Biswas, acting principal of Mirzapur United College, to wear a garland of shoes around his neck in Narail Sadar Upazila in front of the district administration and police, again for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
On June 25, Utpal Kumar Sarkar, a teacher of Haji Yunus Ali School and College in Ashulia, was beaten to death by one of his own students for taking disciplinary action against that student.
In the first six months of this year, three incidents of violence against teachers became newspaper headlines, showing a disturbing trend that is contrary to our traditional values of respecting and honouring teachers.
Hriday Mondal, a science teacher of Binodpur Ram Kumar High School in Munshiganj, told this correspondent, "I am still living with the trauma. I am always afraid for the security of my family members. The conspirators who tried to harm me at that time are still at large and they can still harm me or my family members. The administration and the mass media cannot protect me all the time."
Swapan Kumar Biswas, acting principal of Mirzapur United College, who has fled from home to avoid further reprisals, told the media, "I wish I could die by suicide after such public humiliation. I don't want to show my face to society. I never hurt any religious sentiment. I tried to take disciplinary action against those who had hurt religious sentiment."
Hriday and Swapan have every reason to be traumatised as they witnessed how the entire community and even the police went against them and supported their humiliation.
According to the plaintiff in Hriday's case, when he was summoned to the police station, he saw that the police officers had already written the complaint without even consulting him. He was ordered by the headmaster to sign the complaint and become the plaintiff.
In Swapan's case too, he was humiliated right in front of the police who took no visible action to protect him from the harassers.
These incidents remind us of the ordeal of another teacher, Shyamal Kanti Bhakta, who was publicly humiliated by Jatiya Party lawmaker Salim Osman six years ago. In this case too, the teacher was accused of hurting religious sentiment.
The lawmaker ordered him to do squats while holding his ears -- an age-old form of public disgracing used in schools. The incident was recorded on video and released on social media.
Just after a year, Shyamal Kanti Bhakta was sent to jail in a bribery case and lawmaker Salim Osman was cleared of the case filed for assaulting the teacher, despite the fact that the judicial enquiry had found his involvement. Later, Shyamal was proved not guilty and reinstated to his position in the school.
The repeats of these acts of violence against teachers with no punitive action against the assailants and their abettors has given rise to a permanent sense of fear and self-censorship among school teachers.
This correspondent interviewed 10 school teachers and all of them said they feel nervous when they have to teach certain topics of science, social science and religious studies.
One of the teachers remarked, "I take science class for the students of class 10. I intentionally did not discuss much about evolution as I thought that this might be considered offensive to some of my students' religious sentiments and considering the current trend, I might lose my job."
Another teacher said, "Nowadays I have to think twice before uttering a word in the classroom. I always feel nervous about whether I am hurting someone's religious sentiment or not. We have already banned smartphones in the classroom so that students cannot record anything and use social media in class."
Teachers said many of them have also lost interest in putting extra effort into preparing lessons for their students.
A social science teacher of a secondary school said, "Whenever I feel that teaching some topics may cause debate among my students, I avoid it. After the recent incidents, I just say to myself, what is the use of teaching these students when we do not get minimum respect from society? I am just doing my job as I do not have any other source of income."
According to experts, this trend of violence against teachers is indicative of the grave crisis of values in society. Experts emphasise that if root causes of the problems cannot be addressed immediately, social fabric, over time will be completely destroyed.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of Institute of Education and Research, University of Dhaka and one of the authors of the national education policy 2010 and the national curriculum 2012 said, "We cannot blame our teachers if they are afraid of teaching certain topics in the classroom as we can see the level of intolerance and value crisis in our society. One of the biggest reasons behind this staggering erosion of values among our students is the fact that we have failed to teach ethics, manners and values to our students in a way that would inspire them to exercise these values in their lives.
"In the curriculum of 2012 we introduced ethics as a compulsory subject along with religious education for the first time in the history of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, due to overburden of the exams, students memorise the textbooks just to pass the exams but the knowledge does not enter their hearts," he added.
Prof Rahman also emphasised the need for including in the textbooks, literary works of writers from diverse communities to encourage communal tolerance and harmony.
He said, "I had included literary works of many Hindu, Buddhist and Christian scholars in the textbooks so that students learn to celebrate the diversity of our society. I had introduced more pictures of women and pictures of people from different cultures and religions in the textbooks as students also learn many things just by looking at the pages of the textbooks."
However, he regretted the fact that many of his suggestions were omitted in the later editions of the textbooks.
"If you analyse the contents of the textbooks in 2013 and in 2016, you will find that many works of scholars from other religious orientations were removed from the later versions of the textbooks," he added. "Effects of what we are teaching our children in the textbooks will definitely be reflected in our society."
Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, eminent academician and writer, commented, "Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, children and adolescents have started to spend huge amounts of time on social media where they follow and interact only with people who they like and who have similar perceptions. This may severely affect these children's psychological development and values such as showing respect to others' opinion, tolerance have decayed drastically."
Saying that violence involving school teachers and students was unheard of in the history of Bangladesh, hesaid, "Why did the police not protect the teachers? Why did the parents try to protect their child knowing that he has committed murder? Why did the school authority not discuss with the parents of the children who were showing problematic behaviour? We need to find answers to these questions."
Mahjabeen Haque, professor of the department of educational and counselling psychology at Dhaka University, said, "The recent incidents indicate that families and schools are also failing to instil values in their children. Children always learn from observing living examples, moving around them, interacting with them. Our society, our education system has failed to create such ideal examples for our children from whom they can learn values and good practices."
Haque suggested that all stakeholders, such as families, sociologists, psychologists, educationists, law enforcement agencies and policy makers must work together to identify the root causes of the problem and to find out the solutions.
Her assessment is that our society is also largely responsible for such a crisis in values. She added, "Widespread injustice, nurturing a culture of impunity and appeasement and widespread corruption in the administration encourage our children to choose the wrong path. Without addressing these issues, we shall not be able to solve this value crisis overnight."