Mock homage of woman principal in Kerala kicks off debate on sexism, harassment

Following a complaint by the principal, three students have been suspended.
Mock homage of woman principal in Kerala kicks off debate on sexism, harassment
Mock homage of woman principal in Kerala kicks off debate on sexism, harassment
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In March 2016, a section of students of Govt Victoria College, Palakkad had built a symbolic grave for the outgoing principal Dr TN Sarasu, on her last day in office. A note on the grave read: “Thanks for your great services. End of a 26-year-old saga”.

Responding to this, the principal had said, “I was shocked to see the students had given me a symbolic burial on my retirement day. The cruelty pained me.”

Following a complaint by Dr Sarasu, four students of CPI(M)’s student wing - Students Federation of India (SFI), were booked by the police.  

In January 2017, the chair of the Maharaja’s College Principal NL Beena was burnt allegedly by SFI activists, while she was on leave. This was as a mark of protest against her alleged remarks against the students. Beena stated that “girls came to the college to cosy up to boys”, a group of teachers and SFI activists had alleged. The principal had denied the allegations.  

Now two years later, in an eerily similar incident, a section of students of Nehru College Kanhangadu in Kasargode, have put up a sarcastic message on the campus as a mock tribute to the retiring principal.

"Homage to the principal who died in the hearts of students. Freedom to the campus and relief from disaster", reads the handwritten note. Ten students, all boys, burst crackers and also distributed sweets on the day of the farewell. A video of the incident went viral on social media which has brought it to the fore.

This bizarre incident happened on March 27, the day of the principal PV Pushpaja’s retirement.

The principal filed a complaint at the Hosdurg police station on Wednesday. 

“I am deeply wounded, it may take a long time for the wound to heal. It wouldn’t have hurt this much even if they had slapped me. But the mental agony caused by this is much beyond that,” she told TNM.

Pushpaja worked at the college for 31 years and her tenure as a principal lasted for two years. “What I had done in my career is to view the students as my own children, advised them, tried to correct them, and sometimes even punished them, all with good intention,” she said.

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Assembly that the incident amounts to much more than harassment against a woman and termed it as unacceptable.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said in the Assembly on Wednesday that SFI students are engaging in such activities.

However, SFI Kasargode district Vice President MV Ratheesh said that the students’ organisation has nothing to do with what happened. “Whoever has done it, it’s wrong. SFI is strongly against such activities,” he said. Three students; Praveen, Sarath and Mohammed Anees, who is also SFI district committee member, have been suspended in connection with the incident.

Ratheesh alleged that Mohammed Anees is not in the video being shared about the incident, and Pushpaja had unnecessarily dragged his name into it.   

He added, “The teacher had never been friendly to students, you ask even the other teachers know about it. She didn’t attend the college union inauguration, or similar functions organised by the union. Keep in mind, the union was elected after 90% of students voted for it. She even marked red ink on the conduct certificate of a student.”

Biju Joseph, a higher secondary teacher in Kasargode, said that such incidents would give a wrong message for generations to come.

Writer George Onakkoor said that the act is atrocious and shouldn't be repeated at any cost. Onakkoor used to teach students and had been into teaching for over three decades. "I don't deny that there can be mistakes on the part of the teachers as well. But that doesn't justify the act. If students have a difference of opinion, they should openly tell that to the teachers. Our younger generation definitely need a course correction," he said.

Saradakutty, a college teacher and a well-known writer in Malayalam who is vocal on social issues, views the incident in a different perspective. “There was a time the teachers had dominance when they were the sole source of knowledge. They used to even torture students in the name of guru-shishya relation. Now teachers are just one among the many sources of knowledge for students. Teachers should be ready to accept the changes with time. Teacher-student relation is a give and take one. The post of a principal is not a tool to enforce power and students are not slaves. If there are mistakes by the students, they should be corrected by standing with them.”
She further said, “Some managements chose teachers and principals who can implement their politics on campuses. The number of such teachers, acting on the behest of the management, is increasing which is not desirable.  Teachers should have social and public sense to go hand in hand with the students.”

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