On Mar 20, a group of students of class 10 took a mobile phone into the classroom and secretly recorded what he said in response to their queries on the relations and differences between science and religion.

Now Hriday is in jail on charges of “hurting their religious sentiments” after the students released the audio clip on Facebook and demonstrated demanding his punishment.   

Some locals also joined the demonstration on Mar 22 after the students submitted an memorandum to the headmaster against Hriday.

Police then moved away the protesters and detained the teacher from his home. He was also suspended.

Md Asad, an office assistant of the school, brought charges same night against the teacher of “hurting religious sensibilities”. Hriday was shown arrested on those allegations.

A judicial magistrate denied him bail on Mar 28. The District and Sessions Judges Court refused to free him on bail again on Monday.

University teachers, activists, legal experts and scientists have stood by Hriday, questioning the recording of the conversation, its circulation on social media, his arrest after demonstration, and the denial of bail.

A Dhaka University professor, Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, doubts whether the state follows logic in such cases.

Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua believes the legal procedure was not properly followed in bringing the charges against Hriday. He also thinks the case is a blow to academic freedom.

Scientists think teachers should unite and protest against the arrest of Hriday.

A group of university teachers say they are “shocked” and “concerned” over the future of education in Bangladesh.

A number of organisations have demonstrated demanding the release of Hriday while netizens wrote on social media condemning his arrest.

“EVERYONE SHOULD PROTEST”

Chairman of Bangladesh Astronomical Association, Moshurul Amin Milon thinks the entire incident was “planned and motivated” and Hriday is a “victim of circumstances”.

Milon said other teachers should come out in support of Hriday. “Some actually are. They are taking a stand on social media, which is a good sign.

“But there should’ve been [more intense] protests. Science teaching taking such a turn shows our moral decline. Everyone should join the protest. We need to be educated in science in modern times.”

“From where we are now, the nation is supposed to move ahead economically. But if our science teachings make no stride, we can only watch [the world’s progress].”

Milon thinks Bangladeshis’ understanding of science is lacking as people consider the use of computers and smartphones as a benchmark in progress. “But science and technology are two different things. Progress in science is achieved through studies and through questioning.”

“We must realise the difference between science and technology. People in our society feel content identifying themselves as educated in science, but understanding science and its philosophy is completely different [from technology].”

Nasimun Ara Haque Minu, president at the Centre for Women Journalists, also thinks that Hriday was framed, considering that his statement was recorded and released before protests.

“Students cannot speak in the way they did [with Hriday]. It will be unfortunate if students reach that point. What will these students bring to the country when they enter the civil service?”

Minu questioned why teachers from around the country are not standing by Hriday and why an office assistant would level a charged against him. She pointed out that the administration could investigate and take care of the complaints raised against him.

“A teacher was teaching a topic in class. He didn’t even say anything off-topic. He spoke as a science teacher. It’s clear that it was planned. Why else would the students bring mobile phones into classroom to record a conversation? They were prepared.”

“He [Hriday] said religion is a matter of faith while science requires evidence and logic.”

“If a teacher is arrested for teaching in class, no one will be able to teach. He must be released immediately,” she said, and called on authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident and take legal steps against those responsible for Hriday’s arrest.

‘POLICE HAD NO AUTHORITY TO RECORD THE CASE’

In a post on Facebook, lawyer Jyotirmoy wrote obtaining the approval of the home ministry was required under the Code of Criminal Procedure before bringing such charges under the Penal Code, and the ministry notified all about the law in a notice on Feb 23, but the law was not followed.

“Munshiganj Sadar Police does not have the jurisdiction to record the case,” he said.

He pointed out that the charges do not match what Hriday said in the class. “It is not clear why an experienced magistrate did not grant bail in such a case. The lawsuit is an assault on academic freedom and an insult to all the teachers.”

Lawyer Parvez Hasem said, “Legal process has to be followed to start a case. But here it appears the case was lodged to fulfil the demand of the locals and some other people.”

‘WHAT UNIVERSITY TEACHERS SAY’

A former dean of Dhaka University’s Faculty of Science, Prof Dr Tofail Ahmad Chowdhury said people have some values about religion, but it is “unacceptable” to put someone in danger by using religion.

He also thinks the issue should have been settled in the classroom, not lead to the teacher’s arrest.

Prof Sadeka Halim, former dean of Dhaka University’s social sciences faculty, questioned the intent of the students who brought the charges against their teacher.

“Why would students record a conversation with a teacher and circulate it on social media? They must’ve done it intentionally. It’s a big crime,” she said.

“It should be investigated who influenced the tender-hearted students.”

Prof Tanzimuddin said the explanation given by Hriday in response to the students’ queries did not appear to contradict religion. “Some may object to what he said, but should a case be filed over this? Then where’s a teacher’s freedom?”

“The situation would not have been created had the state acted rationally.”

The Dhaka University teacher also said those who recorded a conversation and made it public should face legal action.

The University Teachers’ Network has issued a statement demanding the unconditional release of Hriday.

The statement, signed by 72 teachers, said: “The incident has shocked us and we are worried and anxious about the future of the entire system of education in Bangladesh.”

The teachers said they heard the conversation and found no attempt by Hriday to insult religion. He fully acted in an academic manner, the statement said. “However, the questions thrown by the students were clearly intentional because the conversation was recorded and circulated, and a case has been filed.”

“We demand the government immediately release Hriday Mondal unconditionally and apologise for harassing him. And those who have created this situation through intolerance, cheating and fraud, should be exposed and face legal action through investigation.”

‘RELIGION-BASED TEACHING BEHIND THE INCIDENT’

A group of eminent citizens and Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee have issued separate statements expressing concern over a series of incidents, including the one involving Hriday, related to communal hatred in recent years.

Demanding unconditional release of the teacher, the dignitaries said: “We must all accept that the unscientific education and communal teaching are among the main reasons for today’s disaster. We strongly demand the authorities concerned to develop human spirit among the students who have insulted Hriday and handed him over to the police after being influenced by fundamentalist thoughts.”

Police and the administration should also face action for allowing the incident to occur.

Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee said it was a conspiracy against Hriday. It demanded his release and punishment of the “conspirators”.