Rape of an Assam teacher who had been protesting against the missing midday meals confirms the worst fears of her women colleagues. Now many want jobs out of remote areas
October 1 had begun as any other day for the 20-year-old. Since she cleared the Teacher Eligibility Test in 2012 and started work at a lower primary school in Darrang district,she would get up early,catch a public transport on NH-52,and walk the remaining 2 km through a tea estate. Once inside her class though,the hassles of the travel would be soon pushed back as the schools 72 children would swarm around her,seeking the chocolates and toffees she always had for them.
Those days are over. That afternoon,as she was returning from school the same way alone the other teacher was on leave four men accosted her,dragged her into the tea bushes and at least two allegedly raped her. There was no one around as the tea estate workers had gone for lunch.
The authorities are investigating whether the assault on her while the medical report is awaited,rape has been unofficially confirmed was prompted by her taking on the School Management Committee over her students being deprived of midday meals. Of the five arrested by police,one is Mustafizur Rahman,member-secretary of the committee,who is also accused of misappropriating funds meant for school infrastructure.
The other four are Muslimuddin,Joynal Abedin,Samer Ali and Abdul Ali. Police are trying to determine whether they were hired by Rahman.
The authorities have transferred the rape victim to a school closer to her home in Mangaldoi town now. However,in the fortnight since the assault,at least 50 women teachers of Darrang district alone have also applied to the Inspector of Schools in Mangaldoi for a transfer to safer places.
The teachers are now scared of travelling to remote places where their schools are located, says Rajlakshmi Sarma,an officer in the Inspectors office.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has constituted a three-member committee to look into the safety of women teachers posted in remotely located schools.The committee will also formulate a transfer-and-posting policy for them.
In Darrang district,since June 2012,1,561 primary school teachers selected through the Teachers Eligibility Test have been appointed,843 of them women. As many as 62 have been transferred after they said they felt unsafe.
Nabanita Das of Daipam Lower Primary School,Rupshree Baruah of Besimari Na-mati Lower Primary School,and Rupa Hazarika of Pub Chukabahi Lower Primary School are among those seeking transfer. All these schools are located in remote areas where,in the absence of public transport,teachers have to walk several kilometres through tea estates,paddy fields or sand-bars on the bank of the Brahmaputra.
The 20-year-old,who belongs to Darrang district,questioned why her students,mostly belonging to deprived families,had not had midday meals for months. You people must demand for it,it is your right, she would often tell parents,who are illiterate or semi-literate tea estate labourers.
Fakhrul Islam,Additional SP,Darrang,said the rape victim as well as another teacher had complained that the accused Rahman threatened them for complaining against him,following which the district authorities had ordered a probe last month.
A teacher of another school,who has also sought a transfer,said the member secretary of her school would often accompany her on her way to and from school,and harass her verbally. I just kept my ears shut. Luckily he dared not touch me. Probably he didnt find the opportunity, she said.
While acknowledging that midday meals had not been served for nearly two years,Gopal Soren,president of the School Management Committee,claimed Rahman was solely to blame. Neither does he call a meeting of the committee,nor does he show us the accounts. He also made me sign several cheques, claimed Soren,quiet on his own role in the matter.
Yes,there have been gross anomalies in this school, said Umit Mardi,vice-president of the local unit of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS). We have been complaining about the non-supply of midday meals for a long time. This teacher has created awareness about it.
Two of the 20-year-olds students admit that they hadnt got midday meals for a long time. Baideu (sister) always told us to ask for them, said Suprina Lakra,a Class III student.
We heard that they give midday meals in all other schools, adds a Class IV student.
With the alleged rape taking the lid off a well-known secret,State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma admitted there have been anomalies in the midday meal scheme across the state. It has become a major problem since the Centre vested the responsibility of handling midday meal funds to the member-secretary of the School Management Committee,who in turn has to be a teacher, he said. While Rahman is actually a teacher posted at the Khairakata Lower Primary School,he is member-secretary at as many as three schools.
The minister also admitted that the 20-year-old wasnt the first to raise her voice among the new set of selected teachers. Some also directly informed me, Sarma said.
According to him,what made Darrangs case worse was that the block elementary education officer had appointed Rahman as School Management Committee secretary for several schools,in violation of government orders. It is also the case in some other districts,he said,adding that he has now ordered that this practice must stop.
However,as Sarma pointed out,not posting women teachers to remote areas could hardly be the solution. In fact,teachers selected through the eligibility test were meant for remote areas. I have requested the chief minister to constitute a special court,so that the culprits are identified and awarded exemplary punishment, he said.