A dalit principal of a girls’ high school has been transferred, days after she apparently ticked off the state education minister for arriving late at a function in her school. The transfer has triggered anger across the state and put the government on the defensive.
The incident took place on June 16 when Education Minister P K Abdu Rabb arrived for a function at the Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Cotton Hill, Thiruvananthapuram three hours behind schedule. He was scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of an English club at the school at 9. 30 am.
When the minister did not turn up until 11. 30 am, principal K K Urmila Devi, who was waiting at the gate with the school students, assigned the reception duty to the additional principal and went back to her office for meetings. Incidentally, the 55-year-old principal suffers from a serious brain ailment, for which she has been undergoing treatment for the past four years.
When the minister finally reached the school at 12.30 pm, he was upset on seeing the gates closed. The gates were opened by the minister’s security staff.
Later at the function, the principal in her address pointed out that programmes attended by VIPs should be organised in such a manner that they do not disrupt class hours. “I didn’t criticise the minister. What I had raised was the concern about students losing their academic hours due to the failure of the organisers. The organisers, the State Institute of English, should have arranged the function accordingly,” she said.
On June 20, she got a showcause notice from the education department, seeking an explanation on why the school gates were closed when the minister arrived and why she spoke against him for coming late. Although the notice demanded a reply in 15 days, the department transferred her earlier this week. Devi, who was only a year’s service left and has been under treatment for brain fungus, was shunted out to a school 45 km from here.
On Thursday, the CPM-led opposition staged a walkout from the assembly for the second consecutive day, demanding that the transfer order be revoked. Climbing down from his tough stand against the principal, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said she can move appeal and the transfer was not punitive in nature.
CPM legislator V Shivankutty, who raised the issue in the assembly, said the minister was showing pettiness by transferring the teacher. He asked whether the gates of the girls’ school should be kept open during the school hours.
Rabb said the transfer was based on an inquiry report, which said Devi failed in discharging her duties and maintaining school discipline. He said he had to wait at the school gates for some time before his securityman opened it. “I had sought apology for being late at the event. But the headmistress tried to blow up the issue in a manner insulting me,” he said.
Devi said she was targeted because she belonged to a Scheduled Caste community. “I am the first Dalit to become the principal of this school (one of the largest in Kerala in terms of students). Many PTA members could not stomach a Dalit as school headmistress. I got transfer to the school on health ground. It is cruel that a disciplinary action was taken without hearing my side,” she said.
Devi, who moved an appeal in the state administrative tribunal, said, “No one told me that a school headmistress should receive a minister at the gate.”