|Minister P.K. Abdu Rabb at the Government Cotton Hill School for the event on June 16
Thiruvananthapuram, June 25: A school headmistress in Kerala has been transferred for speaking her mind after three batches of students missed class to attend an event that got delayed because the education minister, who was the chief guest, arrived late.
K.K. Urmila Devi, headmistress of the Government Cotton Hill School, was yesterday transferred to another school some 30km away because she had dared to voice her unhappiness in the presence of minister P.K. Abdu Rabb, although she didn’t name him.
The 155-year-old school, which has some 4,000 students on its rolls, is touted as the largest girls’ school in Asia.
The transfer rocked the Assembly today, with the Opposition Left Democratic Front walking out after Rabb said he had adopted a “humanitarian” approach.
He said he had only transferred the teacher, though an inquiry committee had recommended stricter punishment.
Outside the Assembly, student bodies hit the streets, while the state BJP slammed what it called the minister’s communal agenda. Rabb is an MLA of the Indian Union Muslim League, the second-largest constituent of the state’s ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front.
Chief minister Oommen Chandy told reporters the inquiry had found the teacher at fault because Rabb had to wait outside as the gate was closed when he reached the school on June 16. “There was a mistake in the notice which carried the time of the event as 9.30am. The minister had intimated the organisers that he would be arriving only at 11am. It’s true that he could make it only an hour later because he had to attend the Assembly session in the morning,” Chandy said.
Rabb was to inaugurate the school’s English Club at 11am and the students of Classes VIII, IX and X had been herded to the venue soon after the morning assembly in anticipation of the VIP’s arrival. Rabb, however, reached only around 12.30pm and the proceedings continued for an hour, by when it was time for lunch.
When she spoke, Devi requested the organisers to keep in mind that such events should not be at the cost of study hours of the children.
The minister did not react then but, after the next day’s papers highlighted the teacher’s version claiming the students had lost half a day, he ordered an inquiry.
Devi was later served a memo that listed her offences. It said because of her negligence the minister was forced to wait outside the closed school gate, which was finally opened by his security escort; that she came to the dais only after Rabb had taken his seat, and that she spoke in an accusatory tone even after he had apologised for the delay.
The memo, which reached her on Saturday, gave her 15 days to reply. But the transfer order, issued by the additional director of public instructions, came yesterday, over a week before the reply deadline.
Rabb agreed that the teacher had not insulted him personally, but that he had only said there was negligence in honouring the minister. “If it was a disciplinary action like suspension, she should have been issued a notice and given time to explain. Transfer is a routine thing and there is no need for such formalities.”
Devi said it was her duty to keep the school gate closed for the children’s security and that she had deputed a person to open the gate when the minister arrived.
The teacher, who claimed she was being victimised because she was a Dalit, has approached the administrative tribunal seeking cancellation of the transfer order.