Kerala principal humiliates teen for clothes before exam, state commission seeks report

The school was a centre for students taking exams of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).
Rep image of a teenage boy
Rep image of a teenage boy
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The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has sought a report on an incident which took place on December 7, 2021, where a 15-year-old was allegedly shamed for his attire before sitting for his class 10 exam in Kochi. Only minutes before the teen was going to take his exam at a school, the principal wanted to know why he was wearing “indecent clothes”. The child’s mother, Seema Lal, shocked by the use of the word “indecent” to describe a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, asked the principal if there was a dress code. There wasn’t. She asked what was indecent about the clothes; the principal couldn’t say. But he kept reprimanding the child and the parent outside his office, in front of other students and their parents, until Seema lost her cool. She asked questions, made phone calls and argued before the child was allowed to take the exam. Distressed, Seema filed a complaint with the KeSCPCR on the same day. 

The school where the alleged incident happened was a centre for students taking exams of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), where Seema’s child joined several others that morning. “Despite being so aware, despite working in this field for so long, I found myself crying,” she says. Seema has been running a child rights advocacy forum called Together We Can in Kochi for years. She has taken up problems of children with disabilities and raised it with authorities many times before. This time, it was about her own son, she says.

“If there was a dress code, I’d understand the concerns, but there wasn’t. NIOS is all about flexibility, about including all types of learners. It is chosen by many [parents of] children with disabilities because the other systems have failed them. And yet such people in authority were picking on non-existent rules! If this is how they treat privileged children [like my son], it could be worse for children with disabilities,” Seema says. 

Seema had to manage the situation because her son’s future could be affected by it. She called the Regional Officer (RO) of NIOS. “He confirmed that there was no dress code but asked me what my son’s school uniform was. I said he was home schooled. Then he said that I should know about Kerala tradition. What is Kerala traditional wear for a 15-year-old?” Seema asks indignantly.

Both the RO and the principal had to later concede that the child was not breaking any rules and let him write the exam. “I told the observer who took the video that if it ever got out I would report to the cyber cell."

She quickly filed her complaint with the KeSCPCR. Nazeer Chaliyam, member of KeSCPCR, says that the complaint has been filed and a report has been sought from the police to be taken from the principal of the school and the regional officer of the NIOS. “Once the report comes back, the commission will decide what to do,” he says.

Seema says that even if the principal had an issue with her son’s attire, he should have taken it up with the child more sensitively. “No one considers [children’s] mental health, and how kids would have been affected during the pandemic when they sat home for months on end. We can’t use the same methodologies for schooling them, as we did pre-pandemic. Even if a child is found to be in the wrong, there is a manner of reprimanding them. We need to sensitise the system,” Seema says.

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