‘Taught in a Towel’: Students Accuse TN Prof of Serial Sex Abuse
Students alleged that the teacher routinely harassed girls with awkward questions clouded in sexual innuendos.
On Friday, 21 May, 25-year-old Ria* (name changed) was forced to relive traumatic experiences of sexual abuse she faced as a teenager, when a series of social media posts appeared on her phone screen.
Several students of a top school in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, had on Sunday, 23 May, shared allegations of sexual harassment against a male teacher in his 50s, who teaches Accounts and Business Studies to Class XI and XII students.
After a lot of uproar on social media, the 59-year-old male teacher was arrested on Monday night, 24 May, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 and for insulting the modesty of women.
The school had issued an order of suspension to the teacher on Monday evening. “Some very serious charges of misconduct have been alleged against you and the same has come to the knowledge of the management through social media. Pending further enquiry into your conduct, without prejudice, you are under suspension with immediate effect,” read the letter addressed to the teacher.
Jokes on Rape, Casual Sexism in the Classroom
“’Why don’t women have front pockets on their shirts? Because you don’t get signal in hilly areas’. This was a joke cracked by the teacher in the class. When I didn’t laugh and flinched instead, he called me ‘too sensitive’,” the 25-year-old recounted her 11th grade experience.
The coming out did not stop there. Later, on 23 May, a woman Instagram fashion influencer shared accounts of several students who accused the teacher of harassing them for over 10 years.
When The Quint reached out to those who levelled allegations, a ghastly picture emerged. Students alleged that he routinely harassed girls with ‘awkward questions’ clouded in sexual innuendos. They accused him of commenting on the physique of girls. According to him, ‘women of easy virtue chose to wear sleeveless and non-traditional clothes’. A few students said that he would ‘elbow their breasts and say that it happened by mistake’.
“I used to sit in the front bench and he would stand obnoxiously close. Back then, we would constantly give excuses for his behaviour and just dismissed them as ‘overthinking’.”Ria*, Alumnus of the School
Another student alleged that, in the class when a girl says ‘ouch’ or shrieks the teacher would ask, ‘Why are you shouting as if you’re being raped?’
Another alumnus told The Quint that he had harassed many of her friends in the staff room.
Recalling the trauma, a Commerce graduate said, “He was not even a great teacher. From Monday to Friday he would blow his own trumpet and say how the school management cannot do anything against him. And then during the weekend, he would call for a special class for five hours or more to complete the portions for the exam.”
“In question papers, he would pair up the girls and boys who were potentially a couple or whom he thinks will make a great pair. ‘For example, Raj and Dia are partners in a firm where they share profits in the ratio of 2:3’. There was a recurring bad joke that he is the gossip girl of the school. Before anyone knows who dates whom, he would know it.”Ria*, Alumnus of the School
‘Attended Online Class in a Towel’
The harassment allegedly continued even during the lockdown in his virtual classroom. In a story shared by the fashion influencer, a student has accused the teacher of taking a class while in a towel.
He allegedly texts the students individually, commenting on their profile pictures and asking them to send pictures in ‘pretty clothes’, The Quint has gathered.
A student even shared a screenshot of her chat with the professor. In the chat she had pointed out that it was ‘highly inappropriate for a teacher’ to ask her out for a movie. “The relationship of a teacher and student must be limited to the classroom and studies alone. Also, if that wasn’t enough, we’re facing a pandemic and as a responsible citizen I refuse to go out anywhere,” read her text. The teacher’s reply which came promptly after read, ’Sorry, it is wrongly send. Call me now. (Sic)’
Alumni Demand Protection for Students
The alumni of the school have drafted a letter to the management, with over 1,000 signatures, demanding strict action.
Their demands include – immediate suspension of the teacher. The alumni have also asked the school to ensure that the teacher does not get involved in any academic activities. They have also asked the school not to let him evaluate students who have written examinations.
A child protection committee and a gender sensitivity committee should also be set up, the letter reads. The alumni have also demanded that the identity of the students who have spoken up against the teacher should be protected.
Victims Targeted by Hate Comments
While the outpouring of shared experiences has brought the allegations to light, several students told The Quint that they’ve been receiving hate comments from fellow students and alumni members.
“We are receiving a lot of hate and are being blamed for ruining the name of the school. Many who are nostalgic about the school are mostly the ones who benefitted from their privilege. For them it is nostalgia, for me, school is trauma.”Ria*, Alumnus of the School
Ria* told The Quint that the boys of the class would also laugh along with the teacher and even repeat his jokes. They perpetuated the trauma, she said.
DMK Intervenes, Assures Action
The school’s name was a top trend on Twitter by Monday, 24 May, morning and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi responded to a post by a journalist promising immediate action.
“Inquiry should be conducted and action must be taken against those who are involved, including school authorities who failed to act against the complaints from students,” her tweet read.
Tamizhachi Thangapandian, DMK MP took to Twitter to call the allegations ‘horrific and grave’. She further stated, “This perpetrator must be held accountable and strict legal action should be taken against him. The school authorities, should take stringent action against the culprit, instead of protecting him. The Central and State School Education Depts should conduct a detailed enquiry into the allegations, ensure proper legal action and put an end to this menace. (sic.)“.
Singer Chinmayi Sripada too helped amplify the social media posts.
“These issues have gone on for as long as as my seniors have been in school to literally the present day, The mere fact that this disgusting man has gotten away with harassing students and having the management or the school administration do absolutely nothing in the face of allegations is revolting, appalling and downright depressing.”
“Finally I feel validated. I am glad this is coming up.”Ria*, Alumnus of the School
School Denies Receiving Any Complaints
The Quint tried reaching out to the school management but this correspondent hasn’t received a response. The principal and the director of the school have, however, sent a mail to the parents on Monday morning, stating they acknowledge the allegations.
“We would like to assure you that our school has zero tolerance towards any behaviour that adversely affects the physical, emotional and psychological well being of our students. Contrary to what is mentioned, these kind of allegations have not been brought to the attention of the management in the past. However, we are taking suo moto notice of the allegations and will take all necessary steps to address the situation in a free, fair, and transparent manner,” reads the mail from the school.
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