'Shame' to sit with boys? Kerala girl's suicide points to unhealthy school environments

The young girl allegedly committed suicide after the teacher scolded her for questioning a punishment given to her sister.
'Shame' to sit with boys? Kerala girl's suicide points to unhealthy school environments
'Shame' to sit with boys? Kerala girl's suicide points to unhealthy school environments
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The death of Gauri Neha, a 15 year old 10th standard student in Kollam district, has raised many questions about our education system as well as the society we live in.

Why did Gauri kill herself? The teenager questioned one of the teachers who shamed her younger sister in class. In turn, the teacher verbally abused Gauri for daring to question her actions which made the young girl take the extreme step. 

What was the 'shaming' punishment?

Gauri's 13-year-old sister was asked to sit with the boys as a punishment for speaking in class. This is a form of shaming that is prevalent in schools where girls and boys are usually seated separately even in a co-ed environment.

“Her sister who is 13 year old was asked to sit with boys as a punishment for talking during class. In the school, they usually make boys and girls sit separately. So, when she was made to sit with boys, she felt hurt. Other students also teased her and she came home and cried. Her mother went to the school to ask about it and the teacher told her that she can sit with girls for one day but that if she repeats her mistake, she will be asked to sit with boys again,” Gauri’s father, Prasanna Kumar, told TNM.

However, the 'shaming' punishment was repeated. 

“Again, the teacher continued with the punishment and that day, Gauri just went to find out more. Gauri was very attached to her sister. As far as I know, the teacher told Gauri that she doesn’t have any right to ask about her sister’s punishment. We don’t know what all the teacher shouted at her, which resulted in her death,” says the grieving father.

The CCTV visuals from the school show that Sindhu, the teacher in question, came to the classroom and asked Gauri to go with her at 1 pm on October 20.

As per reports, the teacher took Gauri to the principal’s room. 25 minutes after that, Gauri is seen going up the steps to the third floor and falling from there.

Gauri’s father told TNM that she had been called by the teacher during lunch time as soon as opened her lunch box and that she was not even allowed to eat.

“Students told me her lunch box remained open when she went out and that she never returned,” he said.

Nobody knows what happened inside the principal’s room or what the teacher had told her, but Gauri decided to die after that.

Discouraging intermingling

Such 'shaming' practices seem obsolete but are sadly still in practice in educational institutions where boys and girls are not encouraged to interact with each other. Even though the children study and grow up in the same environment, they are punished if they wish to speak each other or become friends.

This strange segregation continues all through school and extends to institutions of higher education. It more than hints at society's discomfort with young boys and girls freely interacting with each other. Such friendly behaviour is frowned upon because it can lead to something "more" and serve as a "distraction".

A government school headmistress and a social activist from Kannur, Sulfath M Sulu, says teachers are still stuck in another era and that they haven't changed with the times. She noted that such punishments were common decades ago.

“Creating an idea that sitting with boys is a punishment is very wrong of the teacher. Healthy and friendly relationships between boys and girls have to be developed inside the classrooms, only then they can contribute to a democratic India. Such punishment is a primitive technique. Every student can be mentored by a good teacher,” she says.

She adds that the teacher was not ready to correct herself even after she came to know that the punishment had hurt the child emotionally.

“The girl went home and complained that she was hurt and the teacher came to know about it. Even after that, she did not change,” Sulfath points out.

Child psychologist and research scholar Devika echoes Sulfath's words and says that it is very dangerous to give the children the idea that intermingling of genders is a shameful thing.

“We have schools where boys and girls have separate exits and entrances. Apart from that, boys who are ‘naughty’ are made to sit among girls, so that they feel ‘ashamed’. So here, we should know that we are telling the children that sitting or communicating with another gender is a punishment...something bad that should invite 'shame'. Where are we heading?” she asks.

She also points out that many of the teachers are still living in the past and that they never try to understand children and their dilemmas.

“Present generation children are an informed lot. They are much smarter...they just need support but teachers fail to give this many a time,” she added.

Edited by Sowmya Rajendran

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