Bangladesh’s education minister on Thursday ordered that a Hindu schoolmaster be reinstated in his post after a Muslim crowd attacked him and the school’s governing body suspended him over allegations of defaming Islam.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid announced that an investigation by his ministry found that Shymal Kanti Bhakta, the headmaster at Piyar Sattar Latif High School in central Narayanganj district, had not insulted Bangladesh’s state religion.
Nahid also announced that he dissolved the school’s managing committee, which had suspended Bhakta on Tuesday over allegations of insulting Islam, being corrupt and not showing up to work.
“We have not found anything that may hurt religious sentiment,” Nahid told reporters on Thursday at the International Mother Language Institute in Dhaka.
He called a press conference to publicize the findings of his ministry’s investigation.
“The managing committee’s suspension order is not valid because it was not taken according to the rules. The meeting that suspended him had no agenda. The committee removed him through an unfair way; so the decision was illegal,” Nahid said.
The case involving the educator from Bangladesh’s small Hindu minority had dominated local headlines in recent days and it centered on an MP from the district, Selim Osman, subjecting the school master to a public act of humiliation. Osman allegedly forced Bhakta to squat and hold his ears after a crowd had attacked him for allegedly defaming Islam.
The scene was filmed on a witness’s mobile phone and the video of the incident went viral after it was uploaded to social media sites.
Nahid’s announcement came a day after Bangladesh’s High Court, amid growing outrage over the incident and solidarity with the Hindu educator, ordered the relevant authorities to explain why they had taken no action against the lawmaker and others who took part in the controversial incident on May 13. Thousands of people of all faiths joined a countrywide protest against the teacher’s humiliation and demanded punishment of the MP and the school committee members.
On Thursday, however, the MP Osman defended his actions and refused to apologize to Bhakta for what had happened to him on Friday.
“I am a Muslim. I will not tolerate it if anyone insults Islam. I have punished a person who insulted Islam, not a teacher,” Osman told a news conference in Narayanganj, according to local media reports, adding that he would not offer a public apology as demanded by professional groups and social media activists.
He said a mob had telephoned him “to settle the matter” after beating Bhakta and confining the educator to a room .
“There were thousands of people waiting outside. They told me to leave him to the mob. But I rescued him,” Osman said.
“As I asked whether he insulted Islam, he said he could have done so. He then willingly came out and squatted, holding his ears,” the MP added.
Bhakta, for his part, maintained that he had not criticized Islam. He accused Osman of slapping him four times and forcing him to hold his ears – which is considered an act humiliation in Bangladesh.
“I have not insulted the religion. If he [Osman] said this, he could have done so to save himself,” Bhakta told reporters on Thursday, local media reported.