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The Curious Case of Principal Parveen Shaikh

Joseph Maliakan Joseph Maliakan
06 May 2024

Parveen Shaikh, the Principal of the Somaiya School in Mumbai, Maharashtra, has worked in education and development for three decades. Her interest and passion have led her to conceptualise new ideas for pre, primary, and secondary schools.

Parveen is an expert in coaching, mentoring, and professional development of pre-service and in-service teachers. She guides research-based practices and designs developmentally appropriate curricula, classroom layouts, school support, audits, and startups. This is evident from the numerous workshops she has developed and conducted and her work with reputed educational institutions across India.

For the last 12 years, Parveen Shaikh has worked with the Somaiya School in Mumbai and has been its principal for the past seven years. But to her shock and surprise, and also that of the students and teachers in the school, the school's management asked her to resign after OpIndia, a right-wing aligned news website, published an article accusing her of spreading misinformation and hate speech. Coincidentally, OpIndia is known to spread misinformation and fake news.

In an article published on April 24, OpIndia accused Parveen Shaikh of being a Hamas sympathiser, an anti-Hindu and supporter of "Umar Khalid," the Jawaharlal University scholar arrested by the Delhi police under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and undergoing imprisonment without trial for more than two years now.

The article was solely based on posts she had liked on her X (formerly Twitter) account. Sheikh told the Indian Express, "the management told me that it was a tough decision for them to make, but this association was no longer tenable, and they asked me to resign...I continued to work over the following days, but there was covert and overt pressure from the management representatives to coerce me to resign."

Talking to the Indian Express, Sheikh expressed, "I live in a democratic India. I hold the right of freedom of speech in high regard as it is the corner stone of democracy. It is unimaginable that my expression would provoke such a malicious response. I will not resign because I have given hundred percent to the organisation. The management has always been supportive and positive. They acknowledge my role in the school's growth and success. But they said it is a difficult decision."

Parveen Shaiekh was unaware of OpIndia or the article about her until the management of the Somaiya school informed her about it. She said it was a puzzle that the Hindutva portal had taken an interest in the activities of a school principal. The portal did not contact her before publishing the article on her likes and dislikes.

The OpIndia article, which has resulted in a great deal of hate speech against Sheikh on X, argued that her political views are detrimental to the development of thousands of unsuspecting children in her care. One wonders under what rule or regulation the Somaiya school management allowed a fake news portal to take over the functions of an Inspector of Schools or a Director of Education so that the portal's opinion is taken as a final indictment and asks the principal to resign.

In this context, it is pertinent to point out that there is no protocol or official policy on public political remarks by employees of Somaiya institutions. However, Praveen Sheikh said that at a meeting in March, the management had clarified that "employees are permitted to express their personal views on their private social media accounts, provided they clearly state that these are personal opinions." Shaikh tweets only on education but has liked several posts supportive of the Palestinians and also critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Modi.

Several parents have spoken out to support Shaikh and emailed the school management. One parent, Preeti Gopalakrishnan, wrote, "Shaikh has promoted cultural harmony, tolerance, and peace. I cannot think of any occasion where she has misled the community of students and the parents." Another parent, Shilpa Phadke, wrote, "It is untenable that an extraordinary educator should be targeted in this way because she is a Muslim, and then be asked to leave." In her message, Shaikh acknowledged, "As your principal, I have always strived to create an environment of inclusivity and learning, guided by the values we cherish in our democratic society. Your continued trust and confidence in my leadership, despite these trying circumstances, reinforce my commitment to uphold these ideals...Thank you for standing with me. Your belief in my integrity is the greatest honour I could recive as an educator."

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