The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lipstick push to teacher dress code rethink

Calcutta, Jan. 22: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government intends to restructure the dress code of schoolteachers following strong protests from several organisations representing them which feel it may give a handle to the school authorities to harass the teaching community.

The teachers are particularly irked with Clause 6 (V) of the dress code, which expects the teaching and non-teaching staff of schools to shun 'extravagance and flamboyance in dress and display of wealth' at their workplaces and 'remain respectful of local sentiment'. The dress code, which is part of a new code of conduct for teachers, will come into effect from February.

Sources said the government wants to avoid a rerun of the recent 'lipstick controversy' at Bonhooghly Girls' High School at Baranagar in north Calcutta, where four teachers, refused to accept the headmistress' diktat against wearing lipstick or make-up in class. The standoff led to classes being cancelled for a few days, but the teachers refused to relent and finally won their battle.

Teachers working in a few hundred state-aided schools as well as those run by private bodies want deletion of certain words and phrases of Clause 6(V) and a few other clauses of the new conduct code.

They favour immediate scrapping of Clause 6(V). 'This clause is not acceptable. On the one hand, the government, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, says it is against the idea of imposing a dress code on teachers. On the other hand, the administration has given a green signal to a provision in the code which will enable the school authorities to harass a teacher if he or she decides to wear a dress of his or her choice. We are not going to put up with this kind of double standards on the government's part,' said Ratan Laskar, general secretary of the Secondary School Teachers' Association.

Surprisingly, the government recently issued a circular to all the city schools asking their heads to permit their lady teachers to wear salwar kameez if they wanted to. It was issued in the wake of directives from Calcutta High Court and the state human rights commission that lady teachers be allowed to wear the dress. But citing Clause 6(V) of the new code, several school authorities are pushing their teachers to stick to saris.

'All the clauses of the new code were finalised after consulting the teachers' bodies. But now that the teachers apprehend that the school authorities may interpret the provision in a different way, we have to restructure this particular clause,' school education minister Kanti Biswas said.

Kartick Saha, general secretary of the Bengal Primary Teachers' Association, also feels the controversial clause could be used by state-aided schools to harass teachers. 'Many private schools and even reputed English medium institutions are citing the clause to force teachers not to wear salwar kameez,' he said.

The teachers are also up in arms against a provision which debars them and non-teaching employees from smoking and consuming alcoholic drinks on school premises as well as public places.

'We understand that it is desirable for teachers not to smoke or consume intoxicating drinks in schools. But should a teacher be punished for smoking on the road, which happens to be a public place' This kind of extreme measure should not be linked with the teachers' job conditions. We want abolition of this provision in the new code,' said a representative of a teachers' body.

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