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Caste

West Bengal: School Headmaster Arrested for Casteist Remarks, Harassment

A peon at the school alleged that the mental trauma caused by regular harassment led to a miscarriage.

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Kolkata: A high school headmaster was arrested on Thursday following the complaint of a woman staffer. She alleged that the casteist remarks and harassment she faced caused her mental trauma and a miscarriage eight months into her pregnancy.

Nandish Neogy, the headmaster, was arrested on Thursday and produced before a court on Friday. He was remanded to three days’ police custody, said a police officer in East Midnapore district where the school is located.

The police have booked him under several sections of the Indian Penal Code as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Neogy had joined the school as headmaster in July 2019 and, according to the complainant Mousumi Das, he started bullying and harassing her with casteist remarks soon after. However, she lodged a police complaint after she lost her unborn child in July, the same month when the headmaster allegedly stopped the payment of her salary without any prior information.

The school, Sabajput Sambodhi Sikshatirtha, is in the Contai area of East Midnapore district. It takes students till class 12.

Also read: How Caste Discrimination Impacts Child Development and Stunting in India

Speaking to The Wire on Friday, the complainant said, “He caused me immense mental trauma. I could not take care of myself when I needed to for the sake of my child. He even stopped my July salary without any intimation and I am yet to receive my salary for the month.”

She joined the school as a peon in April 2019.

Speaking to other teachers of the school, The Wire learnt that two teachers have also complained against Neogy before the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, accusing him of making casteist remarks and subjecting them to caste-based discrimination.

One of them is Pravat Das, an assistant teacher of English. Supporting Mousumi Das’s allegations, he said, “On one occasion, she fell unconscious in the school and had to be taken to the hospital, but the headmaster publicly said in the teachers’ room that it was all drama. On another occasion, she had mild fever and a doctor had prescribed that she underwent a COVID-19 swab sample test if her condition deteriorated. Since she was alright, she did not undergo the test but the headmaster was not ready to let her come to the school.”

Pravat Das alleged that another teacher had also written to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes against Neogy’s discriminatory acts. However, that teacher could not be contacted for comments.

Documents accessed by The Wire reveal that the assistant teacher for physical education, Mahadeb Barui, had lodged a complaint with the district school education authorities and the Contai police station against Neogy in February, alleging that the headmaster coaxed him to pay a few thousand rupees to get approval for a mutual transfer. Barui is presently working at Radhamohanpur KN High School in Bankura district. He hails from Bankura district. In March, Barui lodged a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.

Pravat, who has lodged a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes in December 2020, accusing Neogy of caste-based discrimination. He also registered a complaint with the Maniktala police station and the superintendent of police, East Midnapore district, alleging various kinds of harassment.

Mousumi Das had first lodged a complaint against Neogy at the Contai police station on April 26. In the latest complaint lodged earlier this month, she wrote that the first complaint was lodged after she had mentally broken down but since then the situation worsened and she was completely devastated.

“He kept abusing me for belonging to a low caste, regularly, in the presence of everyone else in the school,” reads the complaint, copies of which were also sent to the district magistrate and the school education department.

Also read: Why Higher Education Is Still a Distant Dream for the Tribal Communities of Kerala

This is not the first time that Neogy has been in the news. In 2019, when he was an assistant teacher at Basanti St Xavier’s high school and got an appointment as headmaster at Neguna Sundarnarayan high school, he got to know the latter school already had a headmaster. He first raised this anomaly on social media and later alleged that following his social media post, the chairman of the School Services Commission had threatened him with dire consequences over a telephone call.

He was later given an appointment at the Sabajput Sambodhi Sikshatirtha.

The Wire tried to reach out to Neogy’s family members for their comments, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

While schools have remained closed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, teaching and non-teaching staff had to visit the school on occasion, especially to oversee the process of distributing food grains meant for mid-day meals.

Local panchayat pradhan Namita Das said that she too had heard of complaints against the headmaster and that even the cooks for the mid-day meal at the school had made several accusations against him for misbehaviour.

Another teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he suspected Neogy was being targeted because he was trying to enforce discipline. However, it was not possible to verify this claim independently.

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya is a journalist and author based in Kolkata.