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‘Watched Porn in Class’: Top Chennai Schools Face #MeToo Wave

Students of at least five top Chennai schools have accused some of their male teachers of sexually harassing them.

Updated
Gender
6 min read
It all began when several students of a top school in Chennai levelled allegations against a Commerce  teacher for routinely harassing girls with ‘awkward questions’ clouded in sexual innuendos.
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What started off as allegations of child sex abuse against a 59-year-old teacher of a top Chennai school, has now led to a #MeToo movement of sorts with several students of at least five of Chennai’s top schools levelling similar allegations against some of their male teachers .

Students and alumni of the schools have taken to social media to recall disturbing incidents of sexual harassment. Those who say they were harassed have allegedly faced these instances when they were between the age of six and 15 years.

The Quint spoke to students from five most reputed schools in Chennai to understand the gravity of these cases. Here’s a look.

(In order to protect the identity of the survivors, The Quint will not be naming any of the students, teachers or schools.)

Teacher Who Watched Porn in Class

Lovelina* (name changed), 26-year-old, is a singer. She had faced abuse when she was a teenager studying in a top school in Chennai.

Recently, as #MeToo allegations raged on social media, Lovelina was appalled to know that many of her fellow classmates too had been sexually harassed by a teacher who had misbehaved with her. None of them had shared their stories prior to last week.

The accused, a Sanskrit teacher of one of Chennai’s top schools, had allegedly made several advances, even with girls who were as young as seven years.

“He was caught watching porn in the class and computer lab several times. Sometimes, students were unable to write their exams because they could see him watch porn. None of the teachers did anything about it. He was not afraid of anybody.”
Lovelina*, an Alumnus 
Allegation of an alumnus of one school in Chennai
Allegation of an alumnus of one school in Chennai
(Photo Courtesy: Aroop Mishra/ The Quint)

During inter-school competitions, the teacher used to walk into the staffroom where girl students were allotted space to change their costumes.

“Once during our annual day event, when teachers had told all men to step out as we were changing into sarees, this man barged in. We were standing in our blouses and petticoats, and he said, ‘Oops, sorry!’, gave a cheeky smile and walked away,” said Lovelina.*

Meanwhile, other students spoke up against the culture of abuse that the school silently, condoned. A chemistry lab technician of the same school used to allegedly feel up girls in the pretext of helping them button up their lab coats.

An alumnus alleges sexual harassment by a teacher in a top school in Chennai. 
An alumnus alleges sexual harassment by a teacher in a top school in Chennai. 
(Photo: Instagram Screenshot)
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Abuse in the Kids’ Pool

Several students levelled allegations of abuse against the swimming coach of another Chennai school. He “leered” at them and “groped” them, they accused.

“He once told me, ‘You look very beautiful and hot. I wish I had laid my eyes on you from the beginning’. I got so scared but didn’t know how to react back then,” said 25-year-old Raji* (name changed), an alumnus of the school.

A former student’s allegation.
A former student’s allegation.
(Photo Courtesy: Aroop Mishra/ The Quint)
“The coach would stand near the crowded canteen and offer to get snacks for the girls. Then, he would place his hands on the girls’ shoulders and buttocks and rub up against them. He became my dad’s patient (Raji’s father is a doctor) and only then did he stop misbehaving with me. But I cannot say he stopped misbehaving with the rest of the students.”
Raji*, an Alumnus 

Back in third grade, when Raji had come to school in a cute blue band and earrings, ‘strictly adhering to the school dress code’, the teacher called her to the front of the class and called her pretty. “He then rubbed my back continuously. He pulled my face and kissed me on my cheek. I froze and didn’t know what to do,” she told The Quint.

The horror stories, however, do not stop at the swimming pool, classroom or staffroom.

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Abuse on the Basketball Court

Ramya* (name changed), 33-year-old, who is an artist and basketball player, told The Quint that the recent uproar over abuse in schools forced her to unearth many suppressed memories.

“When we played, the coach hurled abuses at us. He would scream my name out loudly during the matches and ask, ‘M***u pudingaraya?’ (Are you pulling your pubic hair?). As kids from educated families we were warned against this foul language. But in the court, this language became normalised,” said Ramya*.

The coach used to target students who came from troubled homes. He targeted children of single parents and those struggling with serious health disorders. In what seems to be classist discrimination, the coach also used to target those studying on sports scholarships, the students said.

Another player of the team shared her experience, “Whenever I wore men’s T-shirts, he would look at me and say, ‘It’s jiggling well’. One day on the court he made a physical advance, she recollected. “He pulled me by my drawer strings and drew me uncomfortably close to him and said, ‘Ellathiyum kelatti podu. Paakka nalla irundha kekaren’, meaning, ‘Take off your clothes. If you look good, I will listen to you’.

An allegation by a former student.
An allegation by a former student.
(Photo Courtesy: Aroop Mishra/ The Quint)
“Sometimes when we played, he would pause the game and press his genitals against ours in the pretext of teaching us moves. He used to watch us when we warm up. Since touch is legitimised because it is a game, we weren’t sure how to speak up about his unwarranted touch.”
Ramya*, an Alumnus 

Several other students accused the coach of pinching and grabbing their breasts, waists and buttocks.

“We used to go for tournaments outside the state and he was the only one accompanying us as no female teacher was assigned the task. He has molested girls on trains. We spoke among ourselves, but we were scared to tell our elders,” she added.

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Power Enables a Repeat Offender?

While a few students said they could never muster the courage to accept their teachers’ behaviour as abuse, many others said they had on various instances raised the issue with their respective school principals. No action was, however, taken.

“The basketball coach grew more powerful with each of our victories,” Lovelina* said.
Students alleged that abusive teachers were often part of the school committees which raked in donations.

A student alleged that no action was taken against the accused Sanskrit teacher as “he was directly appointed by the director of the institution. If any teacher complained against him, they faced retaliation.”

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Policy Change is the Need of The Hour

Several alumni members are now collating experiences and requesting students to write formal complaints outlining details of the abuse they faced. The letters will be addressed to heads of the respective institutions.

“What happened to me should not happen to another child. I am scared to send my child to any school in Chennai because I know of at least one abuser in each of the sought after schools,” said Shyamala* (name changed).

An allegation from a former student.
An allegation from a former student.
(Photo Courtesy: Aroop Mishra/ The Quint)

Tamil Nadu Minister of School Education Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi told reporters on Tuesday, 25 May that the government may set up a committee to exclusively handle complaints of sexual abuse and harassment at schools.

He also emphasised that there should be Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) in schools.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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