We are extremely grateful for the timely initiative of the education minister, whose ministry reinstated Shyamal Kanti Bhakta, the humiliated headmaster of Narayanganj Piyar Sattar Latif High School, and scrapped the school management committee after the investigation committee found allegations of the headmaster demeaning religion to be untrue. Even before taking the laudable step, the Education Minister was embarrassed; the Law Minister has also termed the incident as a “punishable act”. Even after such reactions from two ministers of the government, the school management committee seemed to have suddenly woken up from years of hibernation and suspended him on grounds of “corporal punishment, irregularities and bribery in recruitment of teachers, derogatory remarks against Islam, unauthorised leave of absences and late entry at school”. This chain of incidents indicates that foul play and attempts to rule and reign over justice was at play. This was mostly possible because the incident involved the MP of Narayanganj, Selim Osman.
Mr. Osman wears many hats – lawmaker, business leader, leader of the opposition and many more. But on top of everything else, he belongs to the powerful ‘Osman Clan’ of Narayanganj. This mighty clan allegedly rules the town with its unique style of governance, has its own court of justice and apparently formulate their own laws when they feel the necessity. In fact, this sense of entitlement and ‘justice’ was what moved him to “save” a ‘notorious’ (!) headmaster from being lynched by a mob. At least that’s what he claimed in defense of his heinous action that outraged the country. Thousands of youngsters took to streets and the social media to protest the incident, apologising to the teacher for the torture inflicted on him. Infuriated students, teachers, celebrities and activists posted pictures of them holding placards that read ‘Sorry Sir’, and holding their ears in a show of solidarity with Shyamal Kanti. “We stand here with immense sadness, anger and shame. A lawmaker enacts laws and shows direction to the nation,” said Pro-Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University, Dr. Nasrin Ahmed.
The MP applied his ‘wisdom’ to lead an all out public humiliation of the poor headmaster for his alleged derogatory remarks against religion – an allegation that, we must stress once again, was found to be baseless. The headmaster’s dignity was shred to pieces along with his clothes. It was a different kind of court of justice, where any Tom, Dick and Harry could try anyone at will. The so-called court gave its verdict and immediately executed the punishment by making him hold his ears and do squats in the presence of a public audience. He was first mercilessly beaten by a gang of ruthless men who seem to have masterminded the whole thing – first they spread the rumour that he had made derogatory remarks about religion, then they used the local mosque to instigate the incident.
The whole incident seems to be made up only to humiliate him and oust him from the position of headmaster and appoint someone who would do ‘as they are told’. While carrying out his humiliating ‘punishment’, the headmaster collapsed on the ground, only to be ordered to apologise again and again in front of the public, some of whom were heard chanting slogans like ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ that represents the spirit of the Liberation War of 1971.
According to media reports, Shyamal Kanti was a respected personality in his area. He brought the school to its present state of success by working tirelessly and spending years of his life improving the state of education in his institute. He even went door to door to encourage parents to send their kids to his school. At one point, a conflict of interests developed between the headmaster and the management committee, as claimed by the victim. He alleged that the management committee was probably waiting for an opportunity to replace him, and exploited the opportunity when a student alleged that the headmaster had hit him.
Allegations (most often false) of someone hurting religious sentiments seem to have become weapons to serve ill-intentioned objectives of certain groups. A series of planned attacks on Buddhist monasteries and houses in Ramu in 2012, and assaults on other religious minorities are examples of this. This latest heartbreaking incident can have many interpretations, and different interest groups can analyse the actual objectives behind the humiliation in a number of ways, but that will take us nowhere unless we admit that ‘intolerance’ and ‘might is right’ is gradually encroaching the regions of ‘freedom of thought’ and ‘democratic space’. It goes without saying that beating a student or handing out corporal punishment is against the law, but then again under no circumstance can a lawmaker impose his own notion of justice on another individual. Did Selim Osman forget his oath of upholding the law and protecting the citizens of his constituency? Or did he solely take the oath to secure his seat at the Parliament?
Didn’t this debasing act bring disgrace to the Parliament, the business community and the society as a whole, let alone the MP who was behind all of this? No words can justify the horror of this incident, where a lawmaker takes law into his own hands with impunity, thereby establishing his might and power. Like a lonesome soldier in the enemy field, Shyamal Kanti is fighting for justice. Reinstating him in his former position is the very first stage of justice, but it should not end here. If the state does not stand by him, justice will never be served. The state, in this case, must prove that everyone is truly equal in the eye of the law.
this was originally published in the Daily Star on 24 May 2016