‘Left my profession after founder molested me': Chennai teacher recounts 8-yr-old horror

A teacher recounts how the founder of a popular playschool in Chennai, which she helped set up, molested her in the pretext of a meeting.
Image used for representational purpose only
Image used for representational purpose only
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Sunayna* is a survivor of sexual abuse at her workplace. When she was subjected to sexual misconduct from the person who hired her, she decided to walk out of the institute the very next day, because there was no other option.

Though she wishes to remain anonymous, she was ready to speak to TNM about the sexual assault, eight years after the incident.

Sunayna was hired as a consultant and a teacher by the founders of a popular playschool in Chennai, which was opened in January 2009. The playschool is run by a married couple, with the woman being the principal.

“Since they were relatively new to this field, I helped them bring teachers from other schools on board, chart out the syllabus and even a mother-child programme, which was my area of expertise,” says Sunayna.

Even though the playschool started functioning in full swing, the teachers were receiving their salaries in cash, with no proper provident fund account as well. “There were several teachers, including a single parent, who demanded an account transfer of the salaries as they wanted to apply for loans,” she says.

In August, Sunayana took up the matter to the founders, who informed her that they would discuss the issue later in the evening outside the playschool. The man even told Sunayna that he would pick her up.  

Later that evening, Sunayna and her husband were waiting outside their house for the founders. When the man arrived, he got out of the car, exchanged pleasantries with her husband and the two even struck a good conversation with each other.

“But when I entered the car, I realised his wife was not in it. When I enquired, he told me that the meeting would be just between the two of us. We reached a swanky hotel and discussed the matter in the lobby. The meeting was over in 45 minutes. We got in the car as he offered to drop me back. Mid-way, he stretched his hand out and started rubbing my thigh up to my groin. I was shell-shocked,” she recounts.

“I was in a state of denial, thinking this did not happen to me. The man later handed me a big brown cover and asked me to open it. My hands were trembling. When I opened it, stacks of cash popped out. He told, ‘that’s for you’. Since the car was on a flyover, I could not jump out of the car; but I forced him to stop the car. I scrambled out, banged the door shut behind me and ran towards my house, which was a few blocks away. I was shaking with fear and crying,” she recalls.

While her husband and a family friend were trying to put her at ease, Sunayna called the principal that night, to inform her about her husband's conduct. “She told me that she has heard about his misconducts earlier and was always clueless on what action to pursue as the reputation of the institute was at stake. Finally, she assured us he will not enter the playschool premises again. We were not convinced as the couple lived in the same compound as the playschool,”  she recollects.

The next day, when Sunayna and her husband went to put down her papers and collect her certificates, the principal flipped her version and started victim-blaming Sunayna. “She started questioning me and asked why I went along with the man - her husband - when I knew she was not in the car. I went with him because he was the person who hired me,” without squandering her time on explanations, Sunayna and her husband stormed out of the campus.

“As I was leaving, a young teacher came running to me, hugged me and started crying. I was confounded,” she says. According to Sunayana, the man had once come to the staff room, thrust himself on her and commented on her butt. “Since the girl was newly married and was the sole breadwinner in the family, she did not complain.”

After walking away from her molester, Sunayna never looked back and cut all ties with the playschool. “I do not plan to pursue the case or call the person out. But if I ever come across him again, I would not hesitate to slap him,” she says.

Sunayna's emotions flitted from denial to fear to disgust since the incident. "I was 26-year-old at the time of the incident and I wanted to take the man to court and a file a complaint with the police. But the men around me discouraged me from doing so, as pursuing this legally would invite foul questions like 'who asked you to go with him'. All I could do was vent my anger on the man and his wife," she says. 

"I did not want to be part of that school anymore, because it is owned by my molester. The man sexually harassed me and violated me further by offering money in the car. Despite this, the principal was making attempts to protect her husband. These factors forced me to walk out of the school and the profession," says Sunayna, who warned the other teachers before she left the campus. 

Sunayna goes on to describe how her trauma took a toll on her profession as a teacher. "I was so traumatised by what happened that I eventually fell into depression. I refused to work in any school as a teacher for months. A few schools that I went for job interviews enquired why I left the playschool. In fact, that would be the first question.  I loved my job so much, but I stopped teaching," she says.   

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