Feed the students, don’t torture them
We are shocked and saddened by the death of an eighth grade student in Narsingdi, who took her own life after her teacher harassed her for wearing pants with her school uniform. According to her classmates, the 13-year-old was scolded and publicly humiliated in front of her entire class by one of her teachers at Shibpur Government Pilot High School. She was also slapped and hit with a cane. Unable to bear the humiliation, she reportedly consumed poison and then went to the police station to file a complaint. She collapsed there and was later pronounced dead at Sadar Hospital.
The incident is troubling on several levels. For starters, why would a teacher torture a student for a seemingly harmless act like wearing pants? Have we reached such a regressive point in our society that students have to be publicly policed by teachers for wearing clothes that do not conform to antiquated gender norms?
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Over the past few months, we’ve seen increasingly disturbing actions and discussions around women’s clothing – from a woman’s assault at a Narsingdi train station over her dress, to a judge’s comment that which she was in a “reprehensible” state for wearing jeans and a T-shirt, to public demonstrations demanding the right of women to dress as they want. We are alarmed that these conversations seem to be spilling over into our educational institutions, where we should challenge entrenched patriarchal values and promote the empowerment of women in our society. As the Minister of Education so aptly put it: it’s time to talk about robotics, not women’s clothing. At a time when girls in Bangladesh are breaking barriers and glass ceilings and outperforming boys in nearly every major public examination, such a focus on clothing does them – and the country as a whole – a disservice and threatens to undo the enormous progress made over the decades.
Even if, for the sake of discussion, we accept that the child has violated the school dress code, it is totally unacceptable for a teacher to use harassment and corporal punishment – which is prohibited in all schools. teaching in Bangladesh – to discipline her. Teachers must realize that their role as educators is to nurture, not torture, young and impressionable minds. The teacher who publicly humiliated the 13-year-old, without any consideration of how their action would affect an emotional teenager’s sensibilities, must now answer for her untimely death.
Suicide incidents have increased at an alarming rate in our educational institutions. Unfortunately, we have done little to address the pressing mental health concerns of adolescents and young people. It is high time that we examine how the repressive and narrow-minded attitudes of our teachers and our educational institutions in general contribute to the mental health crisis of our young generation and that we take effective and urgent measures to do in the face of this impending pandemic.