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Coimbatore Student Suicide: Chats, Audio Reveal 6 Months of Sexual Harassment

The headmistress of the private school was arrested for not acting on the girl's complaint.

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Cameraperson: Sudhakar

Producer: Smitha TK

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam, Sandeep Suman

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(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)

The suicide of a Class 12 student in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore has prompted the state to focus on the rise in cases of sexual harassment in schools.

The 17-year-old girl reportedly hanged herself at her home in Coimbatore's RS Puram on 11 November, when her parents were away.

A 31-year-old physics teacher Mithun Chakravarthy, who had allegedly sexually assaulted the girl, was arrested on Saturday. He was booked under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code and section 9L and section 20 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister M K Stalin expressed grief over the student’s death and promised stringent action against the culprits. He said the act of “some human beasts" has taken away a life. “Schools should ensure sexual assaults do not happen. We will arrest the culprits and bring them before the law…will ensure the safety of women," he said in a tweet.

Sexual Harassment Allegedly Spanned for Over 6 Months

At 4.30 pm on 11 November, the girl made her last call to her close friend Vaishnav, who was unable to pick up the phone. When he tried calling her back, he didn't get a response. He subsequently rushed to her house. Vaishnav and her father knocked on the door several times but there was no response. When they broke down the door, they found her hanging from the ceiling fan.

Her friend and parents alleged that she was under severe mental distress from alleged sexual assault and repeated harassment by the teacher that began six months ago in a Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Coimbatore.

"I had told her to study here at home as there were only online classes going on. But she said that her teacher had insisted that she attend school. How could he do this to her? If a teacher tells a student to go get books, she will definitely obey him. But this teacher has followed her, locked the room, undressed her and harassed her. I just found out about all this," said the victim's mother.

According to the victim's mother, the student had asked her parents to change her school repeatedly but did not reveal the reason why. In September 2021, they shifted her to a different school in the city.

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‘She Was Scared That Her Family Would Be Ashamed of Her'

The mother alleged that her daughter had even complained to the school’s principal, who asked the student not to inform her parents.

"The headteacher knew about this and had told her not to share it with her parents. She had told my child that 'this is a small issue'. My child had bottled up all these feelings for over six months and their torture led to this heartbreaking end."
Victim's Mother

The school had reportedly arranged for counselling, without informing the student's parents.

Vaishnav said, "The principal had accused her, asking why she travelled in the teacher’s vehicle. She told her not to speak about it as she was at fault too. The principal even assured action against the teacher and said he will be dismissed from school. But no action was taken until two months ago".

The Coimbatore police also arrested the headmistress of the private school for not acting on the girl's complaint, under the law to prevent sexual offences against children.

"She could never recover from that traumatic incident. She was behaving like a crazy person. She said she felt ashamed and didn't trust men anymore. She was scared that her family would be ashamed of her or that her father would harm himself. So, she never spoke about this at home. Had I known this is what would happen, I would’ve told them about it…"
Vaishnav, Victim's Friend

WhatsApp Chats Reveal Accused Teacher Tried To Manipulate Victim

The Quint has accessed WhatsApp messages and calls between the teacher and student that reveal that his behaviour towards her was inappropriate.

According to the WhatsApp chat, the victim confronted the accused and asked whether he would do the same to others. Chakravarty's chat says he was in a COVID-19 hospital ward at the time. The victim, however, insists, "I am going to tell ma’am n management…"

Chakravarty then stalls and tells her that he was under “pressure" and that he was in some kind of a “do or die situation". The complete context of the chat will be revealed in the probe, Coimbatore police said.

A leaked audio clip, the authenticity of which couldn’t be verified, revealed Chakravarty telling the victim that he “regretted" what had happened and that he had “slipped up" in her case.

A suicide note purportedly written by the victim blamed two other persons – 'a grandfather and a father of two kids'.

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Protests Demanding Swift Justice Rock Coimbatore

<div class="paragraphs"><p>There have been several protests in Coimbatore and Chennai demanding swift action against the teacher and the school.</p></div>

There have been several protests in Coimbatore and Chennai demanding swift action against the teacher and the school.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

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(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

In the last 10 days, there have been several protests in Coimbatore and Chennai demanding swift action against the teacher and the school. The All India Democratic Association (AIDWA), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, and Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK) protested outside the Coimbatore Collectorate on 12 November.

Several educationists have pressured the state government to take cognisance of the issue and introduce more safety regulations in schools.

Only recently, a few teachers from prominent Chennai schools were arrested after students alleged sexual harassment. In some of those cases too, the senior management had allegedly chosen to cover up the incidents despite reports of sexual assaults coming to their knowledge.

Following the controversy, the Tamil Nadu government announced a helpline number – 14417 – for students to call and report any case of harassment or inconvenience in online or physical classes.

(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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