Why Somaiya School principal in Mumbai should not be asked to resign over her social media posts critical of PM Modi

Parveen Shaikh, who has served in the school for a dozen years has stood her ground, has parents’ support, the campaign against her was launched by the OpIndia portal which criticised her likes and comments on X platform in support of Palestine on April 24, two days later, the management asked her to resign

On April 24, OpIndia, a right-wing digital media platform, published the article on Mumbai’s Somaiya School principal Parveen Shaikh, titled, “Special liking for Hamas, Umar Khalid, ‘liking’ anti-Hindu Tweets and abusing PM Modi: Meet Parveen Shaikh, Principal of prestigious Somaiya School, Mumbai”. The publisher claimed that it started “investigating” the social media handles of the principal after receiving “a tip”.  Following the article, on April 26, the management of the school asked Shaikh to resign from the post, noting that the “association was no longer tenable” and it was a “tough decision” for them, Indian Express reported. Notably, Shaikh has been associated with the school for the past 12 years, and has remained in her present position for seven years. Standing her ground, Shaikh has refused to quit, saying she has given “hundred per cent to the organisation.”

Speaking with Indian Express, Shaikh remained steadfast, noting that she will not resign from the post as she has given “hundred per cent to the organisation” and remarked “I live in democratic India; I hold the principle of freedom of speech in high regard as it is a cornerstone of democracy. It is unimaginable that my expression would provoke such a malicious response, furthering their biased agenda”. In a conversation with Scroll Shaikh claimed that the management acknowledged her contribution to the school, but they were under “immense pressure” to take action against me.

Significantly, in recent years several incidents (see here, here, and here) have taken place in which teachers, academics, and educational institutions have come under attack from various religious and extremist forces, stirring communal rifts and impinging freedom of speech and expression in educational institutions. In many such cases, the administration and police, instead of pursing the mob and communal elements, have booked teachers and academics, on occasions even leading to their dismissal or suspension. Increasingly, the role students have also become prominent in such controversies, with several incidents reported in which students have joined a mob or have become a mob unto themselves and have fought against teachers.

What are the allegations in OpIndia article against Somaiya School principal Parveen Shaikh?

The article which was published on April 24 is exclusively based on Shaikh’s likes and comments posed on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), and alleges that her likes and comments sympathetic to Palestine and Hamas reveals her “real story”. The piece pointed to one of the posts she liked, which said, “Resistance is not terrorism”, and noted that “This post essentially legitimised the October 7 terror attack calling it ‘resistance’ and not ‘terrorism’.” Similarly, OpIndia found problem with her liking the posts by Hamas, and “Islamists”. The article also took objection to the likes given by her on the posts uploaded by Sharjeel Usmani and Swara Bhaskar, the latter tweet by Bhaskar which was posted in support of Umar Khalid was read by the portal as “extending support to Islamist Umar Khalid”. Pertinently, the article provides details of such accounts and posts under the rubric of “Islamists in India”.

Shaikh’s acerbic comments on PM and UP CM Yogi Adityanath were also pulled out to show that she was abusive of them, before concluding that “One defence in her favour could be that…‘liking’ a tweet does not mean endorsement. However…If she was using her ‘likes’ as a way to simply save tweets without endorsing them, she perhaps would not be ‘liking’ pro-Hamas, pro-Islamist, and anti-Hindu tweets consistently over the years.” On the basis of her comments critical of Modi, the article observed that the principal “was seen insinuating that PM Modi is a ‘fraud’, ‘evil’ and enabler of ‘genocide.’” Importantly, OpIndia did not provide any evidence regarding her professional misfit for the position of the principal except remarking that a Hamas sympathiser is “entrusted with the education of thousands of unsuspecting children.”

Parents support the principal

In conversation with Scroll, several parents expressed their opinions on the matter, with some expressing their displeasure over the incident, while others supporting the principal. Speaking to one of the parents, Scroll reported the parent as saying that the “opinions were not proper for the school”. Several parents have also backed the principal, another parent, Preeti Gopalkrishnan, claimed that Shaikh promoted “cultural harmony, tolerance and peace”. Similarly, Shilpa Phadke told the reporter that she found Shaikh to be a “thoughtful and creative teacher” and “It is untenable that an extraordinary educator should be targeted in this way because she is a Muslim, and then be asked to leave”. Indian Express reported that some of the parents have also reached out to the Trust, and “expressed their strong support to Shaikh for her ‘integrity, professionalism and role in steering the school towards growth’”. One of the parents was quoted as saying that “Her views on certain subjects do not make a difference”.

A disturbing trend of growing intolerance against academic communities

Gujarat saw a particularly violent incident in early October 2023. The incident occurred in Ghatlodia area of Ahmedabad on October 3 in which members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Bajrang Dal protested against the school after the video of the school programme organised on September 29 went viral on social media. The video had shown children offering namaz and sing Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua, a children’s prayer written by Muhammad Iqbal. After the incident, the principal of the school, Nirali Dagli, issued a clarification saying that it was the tradition of the school to make students aware about different religions and religious practices, and in the past, they had done such activities on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi and Samvatsari (Jain festival).

Reported by NDTV and CJP, a teacher was actually beaten up by an extreme rightwing mob for teaching diversity. The private school teacher was beaten for allegedly making students perform namaz as part of an awareness activity. Subject to violence simply because of carrying out an educational activity intended to promote cultural sensitivity and break down communal barrier, the incident first led to protests and subsequently found itself involved in a government investigation in Kalorex Future High School in Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia after a video of the same went viral on social media. Members of several right-wing organisations, including the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Bajrang Dal descended outside the school and staged protests on the school premises. These groups vehemently protested against the activity and demanded that such incidents be prohibited within educational institutions.  Several of these protestors even physically assaulted a teacher who was merely playing a musical instrument when the students were asked to practise prayers from different faiths, according to NDTV.

Mumbai and Maharashtra have also been specific to such systemic targeted attacks.

Sabrangindia on September 11, 2023 reported on a detailed fact-finding conducted by a group of women’s oranisations in and around Kolhapur, highlighting the growing attacks on educational institutions by fringe right-wing elements. The investigation had concluded on how 11 educational institutions became target of organised Hindutva mobs in and around Kolhapur, including the districts of Sangli and Satara. In the period of June-August 2023, as a sinister run up to the 2023 general elections (followed by the state assembly elections), women teachers in as many as nine schools in Kolhapur Sangli and neighbouring districts, were being pressurised and targeted; tactics are planned coercive manipulations in classrooms followed. These alarming incidents, of mob student-driven violence, have occurred in the educational sector in the districts of Kolhapur-Sangli-Satara, which are under the jurisdiction of Shivaji University. These episodes of targeted attacks on campuses and teachers took place from June 8 to August 17, involving the following institutions, namely, Kolhapur Institute of Technology (June 8), Vivekananda College (Kolhapur) (July 18), Dattajirao Kadam Arts, Science and Commerce College (Ichalkaranj) (July 21), Seventh-day Adventist School (Kolhapur) (August 4), Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu College (Kolhapur)(August 12 and August 17), Pandit Nehru Vidhyalay and Junior College, Rayat Shikshan Sanstha (Sangli)(July 17), Yashwantrao Chavan College (Satara)(August 9), and Chandrabai-Shantappa Shendure College (Kolhapur).

Close to a dozen incidents of organized mob intimidation of teachers and the school administration were documented.  Disturbing is the creation and constitution of this “mob”. In several cases it is students who initially make objectionable statements within the class, who when the teacher rationally responds, return with “mob” outside the premises, pressurizing the administration to “act” against the teacher! This planned program was reportedly being carried out in various educational institutions, targeting teachers by deliberately inciting students on religious grounds, putting pressure on the management of educational institutions and disrupting the harmonious educational environment. It was the meticulous documentation by senior women activists from various organisations, who put together the fact-finding report under the umbrella organization, “Women Protest for Peace” (WPFP) that brought these incidents to light.

Another incident around July 2023 was significant. Reported by The Wire this incident in Pune’s Talegaon Dabhade area took place on July 4 when a group of parents, accompanied by members of the vigilante Bajrang Dalentered the school’s premises and assaulted a school principal for allegedly singing a prayer with the phrase of “Dear Lord.” The attack was documented by some of the staff on video and the incident showed, the teacher, a Christian, Alexander Coatyes Reid being chased by a mob of over 25-30 persons chanting Har Har Mahadeo. The mob tore his shirt and attacked the teacher on the allegations that students were being forced to recite Christian prayers, which the police found to be untrue. The Pimpri-Chinchwad police also refuted the charge that CCTVs were installed in girls’ toilets, clarifying that they were installed only in the common areas near the wash basins.

Karnataka not spared

In February this year, 2024, Mary Prabha Selvaraj, a school teacher at St Gerosa School in Mangalore, Karnataka, was sacked from her job after furore arose over the incident on February 8 in which the teacher was accused of raising remarks against Lord Ram and PM Modi. The alleged audio clip of the teacher spread across the social media, even as the mob gathered in front of the school along with the Mangaluru City South MLA, Vedavyasa Kamath, to protest against the teacher. The headmistress of the school Sister Anitha accused Kamath of forcing her to sack the teacher, as the MLA threatened to intensify the protest if the school did not accept his demand. The Hindu quoted the headmistress of the school as saying, “‘…It was hurting to note that the MLA who should have been a person for all, gathered the children around him and instigated them to shout slogans against their own school..’”.  Sister Anithra also dismissed the allegations that the teacher had abused Hindu religion, and explained that she was teaching Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Work is worship’, during which she taught that human beings should not be killed in the name of God and God doesn’t exist in the structures but in the human hearts.

In the same month, three Muslims teachers were suspended from the Government Senior Secondary School in Khajuri Odpur in Kota’s Sangod block by the education department following the memorandum submitted by Sarva Hindu Samaj on 20 February to the Education Minister Madan Dilawar, as per the Indian Express report. The suspension orders were issued on February 22 and 24 against the three teachers. The right-wing groups alleged that school had been carrying out religious conversion and jihadi activities, and had asked Hindu students to offer namaz. The major controversy had erupted after a Hindu girl was allegedly marked as Muslim in her Transfer Certificate by the school authorities. While the principal clarified that it was a human error, and School Register had still marked her as a Hindu, the confusion and tension prevailed as the girl later eloped with a Muslim boy. Eventually, the girl filed an affidavit in court noting that she had willingly gone with the boy, without any coercion.  The school also attracted the attention as the video recording of the play on sarva dharma sadbhav was edited, cropped and shared, featuring a selective Islamic draping of the tricolour, when in fact the entire play was about rejecting such selective draping of the tricolour by any particular religion. Notably, several students have fought back in the case against the suspension of their teachers, Firoj Khan, Mirza Mujahid, and Shabana, and have protested to the authorities to revoke their suspension, noting that the charges against them are false.

Another incident was reported in Pune on August 3, 2023, where a professor of Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce was arrested on the charges of hurting religious sentiments under IPC Section 295A. The professor, Ashok Sopan Dhole, was also suspended by the varsity allegedly for making objectionable remarks about Hindu deities during a class. His arrest came on the heels of the complaint filed by Ravindra Padwal, who identified himself as a member of an organisation named Samast Hindu Bandhav, reported the Quint. After the incident, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad had protested outside the college criticising the professor and demanded that offence be registered against him, Indian Express reported. The newspaper also quoted Dhole saying, “I was teaching Bhakti Rasa… I wanted to convey that we can worship any religion because they are all one and equal. But some students were displeased with me due to earlier incidents and amplified some of my comments differently… my intention was not to hurt religious sentiments. I want to apologise to whoever was hurt by my words”.

In May 2022, a professor was suspended from Sharda University, a private university based in Greater Noida, for giving a question in exam to first year students of BA honours course in Political Science, asking them to compare similarities between Fascism and the Hindu right wing (Hindutva). The question was: “Do you find any similarities between Fascism/Nazism and Hindu right-wing (Hindutva)? Elaborate with the argument.” Following this, the university had issued an apology on May 6, noting that “The University has constituted a three-member committee of senior faculty members to look into the possibility of bias in the questions…pending this inquiry, the University has suspended the concerned faculty. The University regrets that such an incident has taken place that may have the potential for fomenting social discord”.


11 educational institutions target of organised Hindutva mobs in in Kolhapur: Fact-finding team

Hindutva mob beats up teacher inside school for teaching diversity

Principal of Pune school assaulted by extremist Hindu mob, police allege accusation raised to be fals



Related Articles