Sarath Satheeshan, a final year BFA student of the Fine Arts College in Thiruvananthapuram, was remanded on April 3, a day after the Museum police came looking for him in the campus. He was released on bail on the evening of April 5.
“He was charged under section 354 – an assault on a woman with the intent of outraging her modesty,” says Satheeshan, Sarath’s dad, who had come to the Museum station from Aryankavu in Kollam, near Tamil Nadu border, after a call came from the son.
The remand happened days after the Fine Arts College principal AS Sajith was suspended for the same incident.
In January this year, a car driven by a professor of the college – Charutha Reghunath – had hit a three-month-old puppy that Sarath was looking after within the campus. Sarath had argued with the professor after which he took her car and drove to a veterinary hospital with the puppy.
Sarath had earlier allegedly assaulted another professor for accidentally running over the same puppy. After consecutive incidents involving two professors hitting the same puppy and Sarath's alleged abusive behaviour, he had been suspended following a DTE enquiry. The woman professor's complaint was also forwarded to the women's cell and the police was informed.
“I had asked the teacher to take the pup to the hospital. People gathered there had seen how the car hit the pup and the exchange that followed. When she refused, I took her car because there was a BJP harthal that day and the animal needed immediate care,” says Sarath, who does freelance painting work, and was away for one such job when the police came looking for him.
“I was not in the campus when the police came asking for me on April 2. But some of the students told me about it and I went to the Museum police station that evening,” Sarath says.
He called his father from the police station that night. “I spoke to the police to ask what the problem was. They said that Sarath had grabbed the car keys of a woman teacher forcefully and that this would come under section 354. But the incident had happened months ago, why would the teacher give a complaint now, just when his exams are about to begin? He had to miss his exams,” says Satheeshan.
Charutha, who confirmed the sequence of events to TNM, says however, that her complaint was given much earlier, towards the end of January or the beginning of February. “But the police action came now. They had called me to take my statement and I told them of the physical harassment that happened. A complaint had also gone from the college. The student had been banned from the campus following an order from the Directorate of Technical Education, but he has been continuing with his presence there, often threatening other students for complaining against him. I got half the justice when the principal was suspended. But the student had still been loitering in the campus.”
Sarath’s parents are surprised that the teacher went ahead with the complaint.
“After the incident, the principal (who is now suspended) had called me to the college. At first it was my wife who went and she met the teacher and apologised to her, and pleaded that he be allowed to write the final exam. The teacher agreed that she would not pursue any further complaint. Later when I went to the college, she told me the same thing," the father claims.
Sarath’s father works as a driver and his mother is a homemaker.
The DTE had, after its preliminary investigations, suspended Sarath for seven days but allowed him to write the final exam.
Charutha, however, alleges, “An order came from the DTE that the student should not be in the campus. And he has not been obeying that.”