‘Hijab Row’ in Bangladesh: Hindu Teacher Accused of Making Student Remove Niqab

New Delhi: In what seems to be a direct repercussion of the recent hijab row in India on minority Hindus in Bangladesh, a Bengali Hindu teacher in the Sylhet district has been accused of asking a student to remove her niqab (veli) – and thereby commit ‘defamation of Islam’.

According to an April 14 report by Dhaka Tribune, the Hindu teacher employed at the Bhadreswar Nasir Uddin High School and College in Golapganj upazila of Sylhet has been in hiding “for the last one month after being framed in a smear campaign” that started on Facebook. The veil is part of the uniform of the school.

The recent hijab row in Karnataka, ignited in an organised fashion by the Sangh parivar outfits, which also led to a high court order asking Muslim girls and teachers in schools of that state to remove their religious veils and follow the school uniform, has created a ripple across the Muslim world. News reports have also been filed on a video clip purportedly by the terrorist group Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri praising the Muslim college student Muskaan Khan for defending hijab in front of a crowd of right wing hooligans opposing Muslim girls wearing veils to the classes. Muskaan’s father, had, however, termed that praise by Zawahiri “wrong”, stating that he and his family have been residing in India peacefully.

Since March, coinciding with the Karnataka high court order, not just Das but several Bengali Hindu teachers across Bangladesh have been facing “hijab controversies” including assaults on them “on false charges of flogging girls for wearing the hijab”. Some Hindu teachers have been forced to even tender their resignations as per instructions of the school committees.

This is not the first time that the Sangh parivar’s anti-Muslim actions in India have created a swell effect on the Islamic forces in Bangladesh, thereby pushing Bengali Hindus to face the brunt of it. Ameena Mohsin of Dhaka University, in the book Minority Identities and Nation-State, had highlighted that the Hindus had felt most insecure following the Sangh parivar’s campaign against the Babri Masjid in the 1990s.

“For the first time since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 anti-Hindu riots took place on a national scale first in 1990, then in 1992. In December 1992, reprisals took the form of attacking temples and premises and properties surrounding them as well as puja mandaps all over the country,” Mohsin had pointed out. Those series of riots had forced many Bangladeshi Hindus to flee to India including to Assam through the open border.

Also read: Hijab Ban Verdict Ignores Constitutional Values, Favours ‘Right of Society’ Over the Individual

Though the Narendra Modi government had passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in 2019 to grant them Indian citizenship citing religious persecution, along with some other groups, the move has been widely counted as only a tool to woo Bengali Hindu voters in Bengal, Assam and Tripura to corner their votes in the last few elections. Last week, the Ministry of Home Affairs sought another six months to frame the rules for the implementation of the amendments to the Citizenship Act. This is the fifth time the MHA has asked for such an extension.

According to the Dhaka Tribune report on Das’s case, “The outrage (on social media and among locals against the Hindu teacher) “promoted the authorities (in Golapganj upazila of Sylhet) to form two probe bodies – one under the school governing body and the other by the upazila administration. But the teacher had to flee the area for his safety.”

The newspaper report said, “Several teachers of the institution told Dhaka Tribune that Sunil Chandra (Das) had been framed by a vested quarter.” Das, who has been the acting principal of the over 100-year-old school since 2015, told the newspaper that he hoped “a proper investigation would reveal the truth”.

As per the report, the incident took place on March 15, the day the schools reopened for physical classes after the COVID-19 shutdown. It was also the day the Karnataka high court order upholding the BJP government’s decision to enforce the school uniform without hijab had come.

That day, the school authorities had held special classes for the senior secondary students to help them catch up with their studies before the exams.

“As the mathematics teacher, Amin Uddin, was absent on that day, Sunil Chandra went to take the class. While explaining the importance of oxygen and the use of face masks, he asked the students to take a deep breath. However, a girl objected to remove her niqab to complete the task.

“‘Teachers are like your parents. You can take off the niqab considering me to be your father,’ said Sunil Chandra, according to some students and parents. The girl then accepted the request and took part in the experiment with the class.”

The report further said, “But when she went home and informed her parents about the matter, her mother complained to the governing body president over the phone. On the other hand, her father Abdul Halim posted a status on Facebook seeking justice for the teacher’s treatment of his daughter, sparking outrage among the locals.”

Also read: While Upholding Hijab Ban, Karnataka HC Misconstrued Several Constitutional Principles

Though the father later updated his Facebook status exonerating the teacher of any wrongdoing after he along with some others teachers visited his house to apologise for any misunderstanding, by then the news had gone viral, triggering fears for Das’s life. “Some people are trying to fish in troubled waters,” a teacher who accompanied Sunil Chandra Das to the students’ home on March 15 evening said.

Union Parishad chairman Shamim Ahmed who headed the five-member probe committee formed by the schools, told Dhaka Tribune, “Some people are making it an issue by mixing lies with truth on Facebook.” On April 10, Ahmed’s team submitted its report to the school authorities but the recommendations are not yet public. School governing body president Masum Chowdhury said that the school is awaiting the findings of the other report.

The newspaper had categorically stated that the recent hijab controversies across Bangladesh had gained a momentum since March, adding, “Such allegations against and assault on Hindu teachers may grow further as a retaliation to the ongoing anti-Muslim campaigns in Karnataka and other states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

Featured image: Representative image of students in Bangladesh. Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank

This article was first published on The Wire.