The nationwide outrage against harassment and policing of women has done little for K Jameela, a teacher at Malappuram, Kerala, who was suspended in October for not adequately ‘covering’ herself. Last May, the government-aided Sullamussalam Oriental High School ordered its teachers to either wear purdah or a green coloured coat to protect themselves from the ogling eyes of male students. Jameela initially refused to obey and even took the matter to the State Human Rights Commission. When nothing came of her protest, she decided to wear a white coat instead. The management responded by suspending her.
“Most of the teachers were unwilling to wear a coat over saris. It is very embarrassing to [obey] such an order which gives you a sense of shame about your own body. I was forced to wear the coat. I took a white one from my son, who is an MBBS student. Being a teacher of mathematics, I have to use chalk quite often. It would have made a green-colour coat dirty,” says Jameela.
The school has refused to reinstate Jameela despite a written order by the District Education Officer. They have filed an appeal to the education secretary and the matter is still undecided. Jameela has filed a petition to the High Court on the matter.
Two colleagues of Jameela also say that the diktat is shameful. “We are in our late 40s or 50s. We come to school decently dressed. Why do they want us to cover our body at this age?” says one of them. School authorities deny that Jameela was suspended for not wearing a green coat. “We took action for violating discipline. She had raised baseless allegations against the management,” says Najma NV, the headmistress. She adds the colour insisted on was not green but asparagus (light green).
Covering up teachers has been an ongoing phenomenon in Kerala. “It only helps in killing their self-respect. Training boys to be gender sensitive is the only remedy,” says Bilu C Narayanan, a teacher at Government Model Boys High School at Thrissur.