Just hours after a 59-year-old teacher of a top school in Chennai was arrested on Monday, 24 May, serious allegations were levelled against four teachers of another reputable school in the city.
The allegations against the chemistry teacher, the swimming coach assistant, the basketball coach and the chemistry lab assistant date back to as early as the 1990s batch of the institution.
The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) issued a summons on 30 May, to the administrators and teachers from the schools.
The Quint spoke to several students who said that the staff members passed extremely sexist and casteist comments and made several advances.
Complaints Brushed Aside as ‘Overreacting’
Multiple allegations against the chemistry lab assistant for his inappropriate conduct have surfaced. Many alleged that he had touched private parts of the girl students under the pretence of helping them with their experiments.
When the students had complained, they were allegedly gaslighted and told that they were 'overreacting' and that this was a 'misunderstanding'. They were also made to feel guilty with alleged statements like the concerned staff member was the sole earning member of his family and did not deserve this.
A student told The Quint that the swimming coach assistant had groped several students and rubbed himself against them in crowded places. He had even forcefully entered the women changing room during swimming classes.
The chemistry teacher was reportedly notorious for failing students and urging them to join his private tuitions. “He would deliberately let everyone leave by 6 pm but make me stay till 7 pm. He even offered to drop me back home and would ask me to have dinner with him and then do the same thing with another girl the next day,” a student alleged on Instagram.
‘Basketball Coach Groped Me’
Serious allegations have been levelled against the basketball coach by a former player who said that he demanded sexual favours from her by trapping her in a room.
Ananya* (name changed) is a successful entrepreneur today but the incident from Class 8 during their train journey to Jamshedpur for a match is still fresh on her mind.
“I woke up at night to notice sir walking up and down. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my chest. He groped me very hard. I was shocked. I remember thinking at that time how a person I trusted so much was doing this to me.”Ananya, alumnus
The next morning, she shared her ordeal with her team but they were shocked as he had not behaved badly with anyone else. Fearing they might not be allowed to travel for tournaments or even play again, they hushed her up.
“A couple of weeks later he explained that he had done so because he was secretly in love with me. For the next four years, he would corner me at the staircase, classroom and ask what I can do for him in return for making me a popular player and for being in love with me,” she added.
Several students of the basketball team agreed with her and said they, too, had faced verbal abuses and ‘accidental’ brushing against their breasts, legs, hips and thighs. A student told The Quint that he always targeted students above 15 years of age who were ‘very good players, fair and good looking and would focus only on one or two girls in every batch.’
The coach reportedly had a lot of influence at school because the school’s team was winning laurels regularly and he was celebrated for his dedication as even when he got married and when his wife delivered a child, he didn’t miss the practice sessions.
A student told The Quint that he would often make advances on students when they came to school on non-working days to write the exams they had missed when they were participating in tournaments.
“There were three of us taking the exam that day, and he deliberately gave me the question paper 20 minutes late. When my friends were done and insisted they would wait for me, he yelled at them and made sure they left. He then closed all the windows and door. He literally trapped me. He talked about gurudakshina and told how a student has to repay the teacher for his services.”Ananya, Alumnus Student
“He asked, ‘Don’t you know what happens when a man and a woman are in a room?’ No one could’ve heard me if anything had happened because there was literally no one else in school,” she added. Ananya’s presence of mind prompted her to grab her phone and act like she had received a call from her father and this got him flustered.
“He got scared and immediately opened all the windows. He then told me to leave. But even after that, he wouldn’t miss a chance to accost me on the corridors. He would call me his ‘favourite’ and then would ask what could I do for him,” she said.
As Allegations Flow in, Threats Surface
Students told The Quint that all four alleged abusers were reportedly very close to the influential teachers at school and were also on the committee that manages donations for the school.
“Many present-day students are not speaking up because they are afraid of the consequences. There are very serious allegations of abuse even in the current batches, but we need parents to lend support to make them speak up,” said Rosy* (name changed).
Alumni who have been collecting statements and mobilising support have allegedly been receiving threat calls. “I have been getting calls from people who could be family members of these abusers or favourite students as they are threatening me to take down my posts on Instagram,” said Rosy.
Complaints: 30; Response: 0
“Childhood is supposed to give happy memories. But for us, the school was never a safe space. The toxic culture permeated to the students and we were toxic and misogynistic to each other,” said Nirmala* (name changed), another alumnus.
The alumni have also penned an open letter with almost 1,000 signatures.
“We believe that these instances of sexual, physical and verbal abuse shared by the victims are the product of the regressive and demeaning policies of the school, which has created a culture that normalizes all forms of aggression by authority figures,” it read.
“Every day, the skirts of female students’ uniforms would be lifted to check if they wore tights. This was done on the school’s playground, a public space, and was mandated by the management. This act is evidently an invasion of privacy of the students and clearly constitutes harassment which was conducted under the auspices of the management.”Open Letter From Students to the Management
The Quint has learnt that at least 30 students have sent individual complaints to the principal and formally complained to the school’s Sexual Harassment Committee, but they have received only an acknowledgement so far.
“I was a primary school teacher and it was so hard for me to create a safe space for the kids because I didn’t have a great childhood to look back at. I had to fight back the urges of replicating the culture I grew up in,” said Madonna* (name changed), who has been mobilising support on Instagram.
The Way Forward
In the light of what has happened so far, the alumni of the school, in a strongly worded petition urged the management to immediately constitute an enquiry committee or make use of the existing sexual harassment (grievance redressal) committee to determine the veracity of the allegations and suspend the alleged harassers and ensure they don’t take classes or grade any student’s test.
The students requested, if any of the teachers resign from their posts before the conclusion of the enquiry, the management should ensure that they attend the probe proceedings and if they fail to do so, they must be dealt with in accordance with the law.
The former students requested the management to send an official notification to the parents of students from the present batch and update them on the corrective measures that have been taken so far.
In order to avoid such incidents of abuse in the school, they asked the management to draft a comprehensive Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Policy in consultation with experts of sexual awareness, social workers, NGOs, psychologists and lawyers and invite experts to conduct multilingual sensitisation campaigns for students, teaching and non-teaching staffers regarding sexual harassment.
The Quint tried contacting the management but we haven’t received any response.
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