By Raffique Shah
January 14, 2012
TELEVISION footage that showed a hapless young female teacher being bullied by hard-backed men and a “be-hijabed” woman was the pannier that broke this jackass’ back. I had stupidly stayed silent when Sat Maharaj and sundry Maha Sabha persons, again men and women, hounded school principal Sita Gajadharsingh-Nanga. I thought that more than enough had been said and written about that unsavoury stand off to convince Sat and his people that they should improve their pedigree.
I did not know that worse would come from another denominational school board, this time ASJA. I thought the Gajadharsingh-Nanga fiasco would have signalled to these religious overlords that such public display of rank boorishness was unacceptable in civilised society. But, I imagine, rationale and religion are incongruous. Which is why, many moons ago, I chose the former over the latter.
Regarding the ASJA incident, I must confess that I do not know its genesis, whether the teacher is culpable by way of sins of commission or omission. I heard ASJA president Yacoob Ali say that she was a non-performer. When he was confronted with her record in gaining a high examinations pass rate among her students, Ali attributed that to “extra lessons” the students had taken.
Mr Ali, do you know of any student at ASJA College, or any similar institution, who has not taken paid-for “extra lessons”? For many decades, parents have subjected their children to this form of torture, to the extent that it has become the norm, not the exception. From as early as in pre-schools, children are abused this way, leaving their homes early morning to attend school, and not returning until late evening—only to grab an unhealthy bite and then do their homework.
But I digress. There is no sin that teacher could have committed that would justify the abuse and humiliation she suffered. Did the “exemplars” who insulted her in public give any thought to the repercussions she would face in her classroom, wherever she may end up teaching? In fact, the sub-human behaviour of the “exemplars” would be copied by many students, and used not only against her, but against other teachers.
In other words, Mr Ali and his team showed the students how they should treat with teachers they perceive to be errant. These are the people who condemn delinquency among the nation’s youths, and wonder why so many of them descend into the abyss of crime. They fulminate from their pulpits about young people disrespecting their elders.
You, sirs, by humiliating that teacher in public, are inviting all students to follow your lead.
I should add that the points I advance in the ASJA case apply to Gajadharsingh-Nanga’s. I wonder how Sat or Ali would have reacted if the victim of this abuse were their wives or daughters or, for that matter, their sons? I should think if they have an iota of manhood in their loins, they would rush to their defence, and more than likely unleash their physical might against the abusers. I know I would react that way. In my younger life, when I was headstrong and very strong, I would have kicked these men’s backsides to shreds, and maybe even the woman’s, if she stood in my way.
To compound their unacceptable behaviour in both instances, Sat and Ali say they will not apologise to the abused women. So what must ordinary people conclude from these two incidents? There is a perception that in both Islam and Hinduism, women are seen as “the lowest of lows”, that they are fair game for men to use them, abuse them, and then dispose of them. Is this what is being confirmed here?
If Sat could condone the abuse of a woman who carries the name Sita, one of the most revered in the Hindu religion, one might ask what would he and his Aranjuez band do to someone who carries the name “Rawan”? We know that Hindus burn an effigy of Rawan at the end of “Ramleela” portrayals; a live Rawan might well meet a fate worse than that!
As for the ASJA boss and his fellow abusers, are they about to persuade Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to introduce the “stoning to death” penalty for errant female teachers? Citizens of our supposedly civilised society must be asking themselves hard questions like this. We know that recently, in Afghanistan, the Islamic authorities spared an adulterous woman (a rape victim!) from the “stoning” fate. Maybe some of our Islamic brethren are bent on instituting similar punishments in this country. Over our dead bodies…
The only positive to have come out of these two incidents was when Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh condemned the behaviour of the boards and some parents in the strongest terms, and called on them to desist. I believe the Minister should go several steps further. It is time to revisit the contentious Concordat that gives religious schools’ boards certain powers that seem to be in conflict with what we expect of our education system.
I am not suggesting that all these boards are as crass as those I identified here. In my time as a student, I attended Presbyterian, Muslim, Anglican and Catholic schools. I never encountered discrimination or witnessed the kind of boorish behaviour by management that now seems to be the norm.
Indeed, I know there are delinquent teachers—far too many for parents to feel comfortable having their children tutored (or abandoned) by them. We must flush them out of the system. But we must adhere to processes that are manifestly fair to all parties. We ought never to succumb to lynch-mob justice, whatever the rank of the perpetrators.