When he received his overly cramped exam schedule, college student Nazmul Hasan Tuhin was perplexed, so he and his classmates started a petition to have it changed. And then all hell broke loose.
According to Tuhin, the department head, Farhana Yeasmin Baten, angrily confronted him and the other petitioners. Then she forcibly chopped their hair off, one student dissenter at a time.
The students – from Rabindra University, a public college in the Sirajganj district of Bangladesh – were then made to sit through their exams with their patchy haircuts.
“I was totally shattered. The teacher told me she would ruin my student life,” Tuhin told VICE World News.
Humiliated and terrified by the incident, Tuhin attempted to end his life. He was discovered and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He remained in the hospital for a few days but eventually recovered and was discharged. Despite his recovery, Tuhin is still traumatized by the episode.
Enraged by the incident, Tuhin’s classmates launched a hunger strike demanding Baten’s immediate termination. Two students have reportedly fallen ill as a result of the hunger strike and have been hospitalized.
Baten, who denied allegations that she cut the students’ hair, has been suspended and has voluntarily stepped down from three of her positions at the university. She told local press that the accusations are “propaganda” by the students for her refusal to change the exam schedule. Baten could not be reached by VICE World News for comment.
According to the students, it wasn’t the first time Baten harassed pupils. “Rabindra University students are usually harassed by Farhana Yeasmin Baten. She has often misbehaved and harassed students, but this is a new extreme,” said student protest spokesperson Nazmul Popan.
“She interfered with the personal issues of students and tried to decide what a student can write on social media or not. Even in class, she threatened students with intimidation by intelligence agencies,” added Popan.
A committee formed by the university to investigate the incident has stated that CCTV footage confirmed Baten’s involvement in the hair-cutting incident. It is still deliberating whether to terminate Baten. The Supreme Court has asked the probe committee to submit its findings within a month. It has also ordered the university to give financial compensation to the aggrieved students.
“We are very sorry about what the teacher has done. We are currently investigating the matter,” Sohrab Ali Rabindra, the university registrar, told VICE World News.
Incidents of hair cutting as a disciplinary measure are relatively common in the former British colony, where these practices were institutionalised decades ago in missionary schools. The practice is now prevalent in public educational institutions and religious seminaries, often as a punishment for young children and rarely for older students. In 2019, a teacher was suspended for cutting the hair of 50 male students in the country’s northern Bogra district.
The student protestors at Rabindra University have temporarily ceased their movement after receiving assurances from the country’s education minister, Dipu Moni.
“We have stopped our protest for now. We expect free and fair investigation. We expect justice. If our demands are not fulfilled, then we will push for further agitation,” said Popan.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.
Muktadir Rashid contributed to the reporting of the story.
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