Good can emerge in totally unexpected ways

2021-10-04, 11:45pm Columns

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Sir Frank Peters

When is the two-steps forward, one-step back dance going to end in Bangladesh?

We know children are the future of Bangladesh. Our honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has told us often enough.

After 11-years, every teacher should know by now corporal punishment is not only morally wrong, valueless and there’s no religion in the world that condones it, but it’s also unlawful and degrading. It became unlawful in Bangladesh when Supreme Court Justices Imman Ali and Sheikh Hassan Arif handed down their verdict declaring so on January 13, 2011.

In recent years, the education of children went into a state of hibernation because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the teaching fraternity was encased in mothballs. One would have thought this would have been the ideal time for all teachers to reflect (and if necessary repent) on their wrongdoings of the past, correct them, and give a much-needed boost to the morale of the children emerging from the education lock-down cocoon of recent.

Only a few weeks into the ‘new normal’ schooling, one renegade ‘teacher’ took it upon herself to cut the hair of her 14 male students totally against their will. One pupil was said to have contemplated suicide because of the humiliation. The wrongdoer was Farhana Yasmin Baten who was the chairperson of the Department of History, Culture and Bangladesh Studies.

To hold such a high position, I would imagine requires a fairly high standard of education (unless the brown-envelope method was employed) and one would not think such a person could be so stupid and foolhardy or even have the ability to harbour such ill-conceived thoughts. It’s not what you would expect at a university.

The last time the unlucky number 14 came into prominence was in May 2013. Then 14 young girls at the Talimul Quran Mahila Madrassa in Kadamtali were literally branded for life with a red-hot cooking spatula in the name of discipline by their callous ‘teacher’ to give them a taste of  (wait for it...) what hell would be like.

Imagine handing over the child you love and cherish into the care of such a manic person. Fourteen Allah-loving children stood shoulder to shoulder as their demented ‘teacher’ went shamefully along the line branding them like animals, one-by-one, on the calves of their legs with a red-hot spatula. The stench of the burning human flesh alone would have triggered humungous stress.

She was jailed for her wrong.

While the action of ‘teacher’ Farhana Yasmin Baten is mild and a senseless exercise in comparison (but morally wrong and unlawful), one cannot help, but feel compassion for the boys as their much-loved, much-oft-groomed hair hit the floor, strand by strand. Unlike the Talimul Quran Mahila Madrassa children with their indelible scars that will last forever, however, the boys’ hair will grow back again. Besides, it’s common to see children in villages throughout Bangladesh with their heads shaved during the hot weather.

What crazy idea went through the mind of Farhana Yasmin Baten, however, at the time has yet to surface.

We must also be mindful of the fact, this incident did not happen at a poor village school that had scraped the bottom of the barrel to provide an inadequately qualified teacher to fill a vacancy; Farhana Yasmin Baten is a university ‘teacher’ and as such, a much, much higher standard of behaviour is expected and demanded.

Until her suspension, she was teaching at the Rabindra University, Shahjadpur in Sirajganj. There is now a concentrated move to have her sacked from the university.

In view of the fact Ms. Baten was not teaching little (mindless) kids, but young boys of reasonable mature status, one couldn’t help but wonder why the students allowed the humiliation and degradation and didn’t exercise their right by just walking out in protest.

While we can debate the pros and cons, rights and wrongs, morals and immoral of what happened; the Bangladesh education system and society on the whole, however, should be grateful that this incident actually DID happen.

Screech....to a halt! What? – Ehhhh?

Over many years the Bangladesh government spent millions of dollars trying to get the people to frequently wash their hands properly and had a modicum of success. Then Coronavirus made its debut and almost everyone were washing their hands properly over night! So some things are not as bad as they may first seem.

A distasteful high profile incident like the one at the Rabindra University could be precisely what Bangladesh needs to rid the nation of the cruel corporal punishment and abuse of power in the education system. Bring the subject into the open... discuss it... address it.

Instead of being demonized, maybe Farhana could become a heroine of sorts. Let this be a lesson to ALL pupils nationwide in whatever school or madrassa they are attending.

The lesson is clear, if a similar incident should happen or is about to happen to you, pack your school bag, walk out and leave the premises.  It’s that simple. Exercise your rights by using your feet.

The law is on your side... Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is on your side... Education Minister Dipu Moni is on your side... the police are on your side.... the High Court of Bangladesh is on your side... and no doubt your local community leaders and family are as well.

This rot must stop and not be allowed to erode the education system that’s so vital to the progress and wellbeing of the nation.

Why suffer humiliation? Know your rights. You do not attend school to be humiliated or beaten to a pulp; you go there to learn and teachers are paid to teach you. Good teachers will.

Be brave, strong and remember you are not alone, so have no fear. Let the authorities resolve the issues that trouble you. Help is there for the asking, and, remember, in the eyes of Allah, you are as equally important as ANYONE in the world that you care to mention.

Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award- winning writer, a humanitarian, a royal goodwill ambassador and a long-time friend of Bangladesh. Three Bangladeshi boys have been named ‘Frank Peters’ in his honour.