A glimpse of the rotten underbelly of our society was revealed in all its ugliness recently. Rather, the sight is getting worse every passing day. About 50 children of a senior secondary school for girls in Jind, Haryana, were sexually harassed; some of them were assaulted and a few allegedly raped by their own school principal. He was arrested under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on the charges of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault, and also under sections of the Indian Penal Code involving assault to outrage the modesty of a woman and wrongful confinement.
It seems complaints of sexual harassment are par for the course in Haryana schools and that such complaints do not deter the department from posting tainted teachers to all-girls schools.
The story is so bizarre that it needs to be recalled in detail. Initially, a letter was written purportedly by a few students of the school to the National Commission for Women. But the names of students were obviously fictitious. The letter was probably written on August 31. The district authorities started an inquiry on October 25 — on that very day, without seeking the permission of the district education office, the accused principal took 50 students on a three-day trip to Amritsar. In hindsight, the trip is being surmised by the media as a damage-control exercise. On his return, the principal was suspended by the Additional Chief Secretary, who smelt a rat.
A subsequent inquiry by a sexual harassment committee set up by the Deputy Commissioner found the accusations prima facie credible. The principal was arrested on November 4. Once the accused was sent to judicial custody, more and more accusations poured in. Janwadi Mahila Samiti and Samyukt Kisan Morcha are the only ones spearheading protests, conducting their own investigations into this horrific incident. A local activist, Sikkim Nain, has accused the principal of having “physical relations” with 30 children. There can be no “physical relations” of a sexual nature with a minor other than rape. So, if the activist is pointing to rape committed by the principal, the whole case ought to take a different turn because he has so far not been charged with rape. Nor has a rape investigation begun by the local police.
Worse, a child of Class XI had died of suicide on September 30. The hapless student, who belonged to a weaker section, had attended school the day she was driven by despair to end her life. No post-mortem was conducted; nor have the police, even now, initiated an inquiry on allegations by local activists of abetment to suicide. Along with this case of suicide, there are reports of death of two more children of this school in the recent past. Nobody has put out a timeline or a detailed report of all the strange occurrences, neither the police nor the local administration or the school. Every attempt to knock at these doors has only elicited cryptic replies.
The Tribune has been trying to get to the bottom of this seemingly scary story of a teacher turning predator against his own students. But to no great avail. The successor principal-in-charge of the school pooh-poohs the accusations against his colleague, claiming that there was once a complaint against him as well, but nothing came of it. Incidentally, there were reports that the accused principal had a history of complaints of sexual harassment even before he joined the Jind school. It seems complaints of sexual harassment are par for the course in Haryana schools and that such complaints do not deter the department from posting tainted teachers to all-girls schools.
It is not as if only the education department or the school should bear the entire responsibility. Not a single local politician has dared to open his mouth about the case. Neither the local minister nor even the Opposition leader. The conspiracy of silence is all-pervasive. Then there is a special bonhomie between the ruling and the Opposition combines in Haryana. Even in the case of a liquor tragedy that took the lives of 20 people recently, the alleged culprits include an Opposition party leader and the son of a ruling party bigwig. The liquor tragedies that occur in Punjab and Haryana at an alarming periodicity are often dismissed as ‘hooch deaths’, which they are not.
Take the example of the recent Yamunanagar incident. The prime accused, most probably a benami fronting for the Opposition and ruling party politicians, had 22 licensed vends to sell liquor. And he was openly selling a mixture of extra neutral alcohol (ENA), which the gang was procuring from wherever it was available. When methyl alcohol or denatured spirit is procured instead of ENA, the deaths occur. As simple as that. So, an excise scam involving distilleries, licensed vends, excise officials and corrupt politicians conveniently becomes a hooch tragedy, only to be blamed on families distilling local drinks for generations.
But the fate of those 50 children of Jind cannot be left to a compromised probe. This case becomes singularly important not just for all the serious accusations up in the air — rape and suicide of children — but also for the complete collapse of the system that should have prevented these incidents. Obviously, the school management committee, the district child welfare committee, the commission for the protection of child rights and all other departmental and statutory bodies have failed.
If there is a systemic collapse at Jind, how different can it be in other government schools? Another sad fact about government schools is that they cater only to the most backward sections of society — economically and socially. When such unfortunate students are forced to suffer these ignominies, their parents remain helpless. Like their children, they too become victims of social opprobrium, making them cower in despair. They will not complain, fearing the stigma of the cops questioning their children, thus making a cover-up easy for everyone. But as a society, we cannot fail these children by letting patriarchy shut them up and acquit the predator.
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