Hema Bajaj has now approached the Delhi High Court after her ‘suspension’ by Rao Mehar Chand Saraswati Vidya Mandir in Bhalswa.
On October 30, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to a school in North Delhi on a plea made by the headmistress of its primary section.
In her plea, Hema Bajaj alleged she had been suspended by the school administration for not donating towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Hindu reported that Bajaj claimed she was being “harassed” for refusing to pay Rs 70,000, though she had managed to pay a “small amount” that was met with hostility.
After Bajaj formally complained to the directorate of education about this “forced charity”, she said, the harassment picked up steam and she was finally suspended.
A very similar case was reported in March this year from Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district. A teacher called Yashwant Pratap Singh was allegedly fired from a school after he refused to donate Rs 1,000 for the construction of the Ram temple. His school claimed he had “resigned”.
There are more similarities in both cases, though. Both Bajaj and Singh worked at schools run by the Samarth Shiksha Samiti, a trust run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Samiti runs approximately 28 schools in Delhi.
Importantly, in January, the Ram temple trust authorised the RSS to collect “voluntary donations” towards the construction of the temple.
And, according to teachers like Bajaj and Singh, part of this burden to collect donations fell to them.
Background and ‘targets’
Bajaj’s family has ties to the RSS. According to her plea in the high court, both her husband and father-in-law “used to go to the RSS shakhas”. This is also why she decided to teach at schools backed by the Sangh.
In 2002, she worked as a primary school teacher at Leelawanti Shishu Mandir at Delhi’s Tagore Garden. She wrote in her plea that her salary was below the minimum wage mandated under the Delhi Education Act. Her salary only matched the mandated standards by 2010.
In 2016, she was promoted to headmistress at the primary school under the Mahashay Dharampal Saraswati Vidhya Mandir in Dhansa, Delhi. The same year, she wrote in her plea, her husband suffered a series of health setbacks, and his medical bills strained Bajaj’s already meagre salary. Her commute to the school was also 30 km, costing her Rs 700 a day.
So, Bajaj said, she made multiple requests for a transfer. In response, she allegedly received a memorandum of indiscipline which said she had violated the school’s code of conduct and that parents had complained about her work. No details were provided. She was allegedly given three days to respond, was also “threatened” with suspension, and her annual increments were allegedly withdrawn.
Almost immediately, in August last year, Bajaj claimed she was transferred to the Rao Mehar Chand Saraswati Vidya Mandir in Bhalswa, around 20 km from her home, without any notice. The new school allegedly warned her against complaining to the Delhi government or civic centre, which is the office of the director of education under the Delhi Municipal Corporation. She also allegedly received a pay cut of Rs 22,000.
But what about the donations?
According to her plea, Bajaj said that since 2002, she had been told that school employees had “targets” to collect or contribute Rs 5,100 a year as “samarpan rashi” – an amount that funds RSS projects, according to Bajaj’s lawyer Khagesh Jha. Her plea alleged that teachers were instructed to either raise the amount from their students or pay it themselves.
In 2020-21, the target per teacher was allegedly Rs 15,000. But in February 2021, she said, teachers were given an additional target: to collect or donate from their salaries a sum of Rs 70,000-1 lakh for “the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya”.
According to the plea, the staff were told to convince students or their parents to contribute, or to visit the marketplace themselves to ask for donations from shopkeepers or the general public.
It is worth noting that the nationwide collection for the construction of the Ram temple began on January 15 and ended on February 27.
Bajaj’s plea included an affidavit documenting the target amounts and donations made by schools under the Samarth Shiksha Samiti. The Samiti is affiliated to the Vidya Bharti Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Sansthan – the educational wing of the RSS – and each of its 12,000 schools are assigned targets.
Schools in Bhalswa – where Bajaj’s school was located – were set a total target of Rs 15 lakh, for instance, while those in Nehru Nagar and Vasant Vihar had a target of Rs 1 crore, according to the affidavit.
The cost of refusal
In March, given her financial situation, Bajaj said she told the school administration that she could not pay the Rs 15,000. However, she donated Rs 2,100 towards the construction of the Ram temple.
In response, she alleged the school principal Renu Sharma “threatened” her and she was “harassed” by the administration.
In May, Bajaj alleged she wrote to Manish Sisodia, education minister of Delhi, about the “harassment” and “forced charity”, adding that her verbal and written requests for exemption had been “turned down coldly”.
She said Sisodia’s office immediately asked the directorate of education to seek a written response from the school.
Bajaj claimed the “head of school” then “forced all teachers to write from back date that the said amount for charity has been done as per their will and not forced by the school”.
Meanwhile, until July, she said she was “intimidated” by the school administration: removed from official Whatsapp groups, accused of using “casteist slurs”, and disciplinary notices. Newslaundry does not have details of these issues; Bajaj alleged in her plea that she promptly responded to all accusations.
In her plea, Bajaj also quoted an email she sent Sharma on July 19:
“Unable to pay 15,000 rupees for Samarpan and 70,000 rupees for Ram temple, you [Sharma] called me in the office and...you threatened me. You [said] will get me disciplined by making many allegations against me, but also by harassing me, you will also get me out of the samiti or will forcefully make me leave...At the time I thought that you are saying this in anger, and that after a few days everything will be normal, but ignoring this threat of yours was a big mistake.”
Renu Sharma told Newslaundry that Bajaj’s allegations are false and that the truth would be revealed in court.
Finally, on July 29, Bajaj allegedly received a memorandum of suspension. When she asked for the minutes of the school management committee meeting where her suspension was discussed, her request was allegedly refused.
‘Baseless’, says the school
Rao Mehar Chand Saraswati Vidya Mandir School has, as well as the Samarth Siksha Samiti and the Vidya Bharti Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Sansthan, denied all of Hema’s claims as “baseless”, according to the Times of India.
In the Times of India report, the three organisations said all donations made by employees of the Samiti and its schools were “completely voluntary and no pressure of any kind was exerted on any employee”. None of the organisations responded to Newslaundry’s requests for comment.
Principal Renu Sharma, while not commenting on Bajaj’s case, told Newslaundry the school only charged Rs 700 as school fees. In contradiction to the TOI report, she said donations towards the Ram temple’s constructions were made by the Samiti, not its schools.
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