It has been two months since she was forced to change her son’s school, but Deepthi* has not yet recovered from the shock. She is unable to stop her tears as she narrates the incident.
Deepthi’s son Nirmal* was a Class 11 student at the St Thomas Central School in Thiruvananthapuram’s Mukkolakkal. In November 2019 he had a verbal fight with another student of the school. Days later, Deepthi, who is herself a teacher in another private school in the city, got a call from the school asking her to meet the Principal, Varghese Samuel.
When she went to meet the principal, the Secretary of the school, Dr Rajan Varghese, was also present in the principal’s room.
“The Secretary began shouting at my son and didn’t stop despite my repeated requests. He asked him to get lost and asked me to take my son out. He was about to beat my son up, he even got up from his seat for that. We were both crying when we stepped out of the room and we cried all the way back home,” alleged Deepthi, who is a widow.
17-year-old Nirmal was very upset after the incident and had a wheezing attack that day. He didn’t go to school for a week and was not willing to return to the school.
“Till Class 10 he was studying in another school, he was the best performing student there. At St Thomas they would isolate students who came from other schools. The next time I went to the school, the principal was nice to me. It was then that I realised it was the presence of the Secretary that made the principal behave rudely with me the first time. I think the entire management is scared of the Secretary,” Deepthi says.
Deepthi later transferred Nirmal to a different school. Both the mother and the son are happy about the new school. “It was tough to get admission in another school in the middle of the academic year. But it was easy for him to cope as the school has a balanced approach to all students,” Deepthi says while Nirmal sits by her side nodding in agreement.
Nirmal’s experience at St Thomas is in sharp contrast to a circular issued by the CBSE board in December 2019.
The circular urges all CBSE affiliated schools and its leaders to make efforts to convert the schools into Anger-Free/No Anger Zones.
“In this Anger-Free Zone, everyone will try to manage his or her anger, whether it’s the school educators, parents, school personnel or other stakeholders. The best way to teach children the value of freedom from anger,” the circular says.
In December 2019, the chairperson of the State Child Rights Commission received a complaint, an anonymous one, regarding the mental harassment Nirmal had suffered from Rajan Varghese.
“How does the Secretary have the right to threaten students? At St Thomas School it’s usual for the principal to send students of Class 11 and 12 to the Secretary’s room, where he would threaten them using obscene language. He would also threaten to oust the students from the school if they tell anyone outside the school about the harassment. This puts even parents under severe mental pressure,” the complaint says.
In January this year, an organisation called Human Rights Watch Kerala, a people’s initiative for human rights, gender justice and child-friendly schools, wrote to CBSE Secretary Anurag Tripathi about how Rajan Varghese was acting against the anger-free schools circular, and about his unfriendly policies and actions. It also points out his crass, criminal and inhuman behaviour even for minor mistakes of the students.
“It may be pointed out that the school has an experienced principal and vice-principal and a collegium of teachers to look after the discipline and daily management of the school. However, in a strange and unusual arrangement, the Secretary has taken over the responsibility of management, discipline and good behaviour from the principal and the teachers,” the letter says.
This is not the first time that similar complaints of harassment have been raised against Rajan Varghese. In 2004, according to reports, the Handicapped Association of India had lodged a complaint against him with the then Chief Minister AK Antony. Rajan Varghese, who was then the director of the Kerala State Language Institute, was accused of verbally abusing an employee of the Institute.
The woman had also lodged a complaint with the State Women’s Commission and the State Women’s Cell.
In January 2005, Rajan Varghese again made news allegedly for issuing show cause notices to a section of the Institute’s employees for leaking news about the office being deserted, as most of the employees were attending his daughter’s wedding that particular day.