The Somaiya School in Mumbai has asked its principal Parveen Shaikh to resign after OpIndia – a Hindutva website accused of spreading misinformation and hate speech – published an article targeting her for her purported political views.

Shaikh has worked at the private school in the city’s Vidyavihar locality for 12 years and has been its principal for over seven years.

On April 24, OpIndia carried a story claiming to expose Shaikh’s “disturbing social media behaviour”. It accused her of being a “Hamas-sympathiser”, “anti-Hindu” and a supporter of “Islamist Umar Khalid” based on posts that she had “liked” from her Twitter account.

On April 26 afternoon, the management of The Somaiya School asked Shaikh to step down, Shaikh told Scroll.

“They expressed their disappointment with the content of the OpIndia article,” Shaikh told Scroll. “They have said [asking me to step down] was a tough decision for them to make, but this association cannot be continued.”

Shaikh added: “The management acknowledges my hard work and contribution to shaping The Somaiya School. However, they said they were under immense pressure to take action against me. They have not specified grounds other than the OpIndia article.”

Shaikh said she had never heard of OpIndia before and that she was shocked by the imputations that were made against her. “I was confused as to why they would be interested in a workaholic school principal,” she said.

Shaikh told Scroll that she does not intend to resign from the post.

A spokesperson for The Somaiya School did not confirm or deny that Shaikh has been asked to resign on account of the OpIndia piece. “We are looking into the matter,” the spokesperson said.

Scroll also called and texted Samir Somaiya, president of the Somaiya Vidyavihar trust that manages the school, for his response. This story will be updated if he responds.

The OpIndia piece, which has triggered a battery of hate speech against Shaikh on Twitter, suggests that her political views are detrimental to the “thousands of unsuspecting children” in her care as an educator.

Shaikh rarely posts on her Twitter account. When she does, it is related to education. However, she has “liked” several posts in support of the besieged territory of Gaza, where Israel and Hamas have been fighting a war since October.

Shaikh also liked several posts that were critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political regime.

The Somaiya School in Ghatkopar area of Mumbai. Photo by: Tabassum Barnagarwala

A parent, whose two children study at The Somaiya School, said that she was shocked by the OpIndia piece. “We felt her [Shaikh’s] opinions were not proper for the school,” said the parent, who declined to be identified.

The parent alleged that Shaikh had begun to recruit more Muslim staffers after she became principal. “I am not saying the teachers in the school are not good,” this person said. “They are all excellent. But we noticed she favoured her community.”

However, several parents have spoken out in support of Shaikh. Eighteen of them met Samir Somaiya on Monday to persuade him to roll back the management’s decision.

“But Somaiya said that his hands are tied and they cannot help but ask me to leave,” Shaikh told Scroll. The management has not officially communicated their decision to the parent body as of Tuesday afternoon.

Many parents have also vouched for Shaikh in emails to the school management. In one such email, Preeti Gopalkrishnan, the mother of two students, wrote that Shaikh has “promoted cultural harmony, tolerance and peace” in the institute and criticised attempts to label her as “anti-national”.

“I cannot think of any occasion where she has misled the community of students and the parents,” Gopalkrishnan said in her email. She has also sought to meet the school management in person but is yet to hear back about her request.

Shilpa Phadke, another parent, said that she found Shaikh to be a thoughtful and creative teacher. “It is untenable that an extraordinary educator should be targeted in this way because she is a Muslim, and then be asked to leave,” she said.

Several parents found it preposterous that Shaikh has been asked to resign as a result of politically-motivated propaganda, Phadke added.

Yet another parent told Scroll that they were not aware of any instance in which Shaikh had promoted or imposed her apparent religious or political beliefs in the school. “I believe people have their own views in personal life and there is nothing wrong in following your belief and it is harmless to us till you impose them on the children,” the parent said.

Shaikh told Scroll that the parent body has been immensely supportive by “negating the allegations made by the OpIndia article and vouching for my integrity, professionalism and my role in steering the school towards growth”.

Additional reporting by Tabassum Barnagarwala.