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Teachers in Kolkata speak up for personal space

In light of the St Xavier’s University episode, The Telegraph spoke to teaching professionals to find out how they reacted to the incident

Our Special Correspondent | Published 12.08.22, 05:55 AM
St Xavier’s University, New Town.

St Xavier’s University, New Town.

File picture

Teachers are entitled to a personal life outside the hours they are on campus, many teaching professionals across institutions said.

Some institutions may not think along these lines, suggests St Xavier’s University’s purported reaction to Instagram pictures of a teacher in a “bathing suit”. She was allegedly forced to resign.

In the light of the St Xavier’s University episode, The Telegraph spoke to many teachers to find out how they reacted to the incident.

A teacher with 25 years’ experience in teaching in a school said rules should not be imposed beyond the professional space.

On several campuses, teachers have been talking about “their rights being infringed upon” and that institutions “think that a teacher’s life starts and ends in school”.

Many of them said that the former teacher’s predicament at St Xavier’s University shows how “primitive” and “parochial” the society still is.

The vice-chancellor of St Xavier’s University, Father Felix Raj, did not take calls from this newspaper. He did not respond to text messages seeking his reaction to the teacher’s allegation that she was forced to resign.

A teacher at a city school for over 10 years spoke of a “mindset problem”.

“Teachers are expected not to behave like themselves. Often, a post on social media attracts criticism from colleagues as well,” she said.

Most teachers The Telegraph spoke to requested anonymity. Some did not.

Priyadarshinee Guha, a teacher with over 25 years of experience across schools, said: “We all have multiple identities. I am not just a teacher in a school. I am a person in my own right and do not expect rules to be in place beyond my professional space.”

Another teacher said: “Our society is still stuck somewhere else in time when it comes to women and women’s clothes. Women are still judged by their appearance.”

An economics teacher who is also a fashion model said that teachers were increasingly expected not to have a life beyond the four walls of a school.

“If a teacher is posting a photograph in a dress of her choice outside school, why is it even questioned? I have a life beyond school and I have every right to relish it,” said Heena Aftab.

The question swirling across campuses now is whether or not it was okay for them to socialise, drink alcohol or post photographs.

What is permitted and what is not is vague and no institution has clear guidelines.

Many teachers said a clearly laid out code of conduct would at least be better than being harassed without knowing what the offence was.

Two teachers spoke of the possibility of “misuse of power” by the authorities in the absence of guidelines.

“Any contract has to be backed by legality and gender sensitivity,” said Apala Dutta, teacher and the head of a school.

“A governing body cannot put anything in a contract just because they want to. Then it will lead to anarchy. It has to be supported by law,” she said.

Gender sensitivity begins at home, several teachers said. Gender discrimination is so deep-rooted that many things are considered acceptable when a man does it but not when a woman does. Many women teachers pointed out that the same yardstick is not applied to their male colleagues.

“Women are often critical of other women who might be driving a car or breaking the glass ceiling in different ways because they cannot bring themselves to do it. As for men, they are in so much awe of such women that they snub them and this brings out their own insecurities,” said Nupur Ghosh, vice principal of a city school.

If a student accesses a teacher’s social media profile, it does not mean the teacher is at fault, some of them said.

At the root of the teacher’s alleged harassment at St Xavier’s University was her personal social media account. A student, or more correctly the students’ father, was offended by what he saw his child gawking at on the former teacher’s Instagram account.

“In this age of social media, there are not as many restrictions on children. They have easy access, which can lead to complexities,” said Guha.

A psychiatrist who works closely with schools asked why teachers should hide their personal lives. “Why should someone try to portray an image that is not real? By thinking that a student will find something objectionable we are undermining the intelligence and sensibility of the student,” said Jai Ranjan Ram.

Last updated on 12.08.22, 06:30 AM
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