A kin of the complainant told TNM that the school in Chennai was attempting to delay the inquiry, knowing full well that there is a lockdown in place.

Students sitting in a classroom with teacher standing Image Credit: Picxy.com/munna Image for representation only
news Child Sexual Abuse Tuesday, June 01, 2021 - 16:52

After 22 former students of Kendriya Vidyalaya, CLRI in Chennai complained of sexual abuse by a Hindi teacher who still teaches there, the school’s management now insists that the complainants physically attend the preliminary inquiry meeting in Chennai, and has given June 2 as the date for inquiry. On Tuesday, June 1, a former student of the Chennai school received a letter from the School Principal, T Rama Prasad, asking that she come to Chennai to attend the inquiry committee meeting fixed for the very next day. The complainant does not live in Tamil Nadu and has requested for her statement to be taken via video conference, multiple times.

Speaking to TNM, she said that with most states under the lockdown, it would be very difficult to travel to another state to attend the meeting, and that the school management should allow her and the fellow complainants and witnesses to attend the meeting via video conferencing. In an earlier mail, the Principal had told the complainant that the inquiry will be done through video conferencing. However, the school management is not willing to set up a video conference meeting, stating that it was ‘imperative for complainants to be present in-person at the school’. “Considering that we are in an exceptional situation due to the pandemic, we are ready to postpone the inquiry meeting till after the lockdown,” Rama Prasad told TNM.

Questioning this move, a kin of the the complainant alleged that this was a tactic by the school to discourage more students from reporting sexual harassment and abuse cases by teachers. It also seemed like an attempt to delay the inquiry, with the school management knowing full well that there is a lockdown in place. “So far, no action has been taken against this teacher. If they delay the date of inquiry does this mean that they are going to continue exposing this teacher to children in the meantime?” the relative asked.

On June 1, the school announced that they had set up a four-member Internal Committee (IC) to look into the complaint by 22 former students. The statements by the former students included several accounts of how the accused teacher had sexually abused and misbehaved with them.

The alumni who sent the complaint had demanded the immediate suspension of the accused teacher in their letter. "Now that the school has been made aware of child sexual abuse allegations against Mr Mahendra Kumar, the school is legally bound to inform the police about the same, as per the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 as even apprehension that an offense under the Act maybe committed ought to be reported,” they wrote.

“On one particular occasion, he grabbed my buttocks in the middle of a class when I went to distribute chocolates for my birthday. This was witnessed by a friend of mine, who had come along with me," one of the complainants wrote. After this account, several students from various batches of the school reached out to the complainant to share instances of sexual abuse they faced from the same teacher. Another alumna of the school said that the teacher had ‘touched her inappropriately by making her sit very close to him during tuition classes’, and added that she finally changed her second language to distance herself from the teacher.

Need statements, signatures

The school insists that complainants need to submit their statements and signatures in person. TNM accessed a copy of duty list of Kendriya Vidyalaya committees including the committee handling sexual harassment  of students. Nowhere in this document does it state that complainants have to be physically present for an IC inquiry. Further, Article 81(b) of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan Education Code, which deals with ‘termination of employee found guilty of immoral behaviour towards students’ does not ask for complainants to be physically present for inquiry.

The article also allows the Commissioner of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan who constitutes the IC to even do away with regular department enquiry, if it causes embarrassment to students, guardians or in case of other practical difficulties and proceed to terminate the services of the employee. However, the principal insisted that “it was understood” that the inquiry will have to be conducted in person.

“The case is from before the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was brought in. But the complainants were minors when the abuse took place, it is only fair to abide the POCSO law in spirit and offer due consideration to the victims,” the kin told TNM.

The 22 alumni of the school have sent the copy of their complaints to the Tamil Nadu Childline, the CBSE, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the Tamil Nadu Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. On Tuesday, the Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights issued summons to Kendriya Vidyalaya, Adyar along with two other schools where staff had been accused of sexual abuse.

Disclaimer: The complainant in the case is a relative of a TNM employee.

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