On Sunday, TS Sankar, a resident of Tiruvannamalai district woke up to shocking news. A cursory glance at the daily newspaper revealed that the Principal of the school where three of his children studied had been accused of child sexual abuse at his previous posting. Kumar Thakur, who had joined the Tiruvannamalai branch of Kendriya Vidaylaya on August 13 had been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and an investigation was underway in the case.
He had during his stint at the Bengaluru branch of KV allegedly called young female students in groups to his office and made inappropriate comments on their sex lives. In addition to this, even teachers were allegedly sexually harrassed via texts from his mobile phone.
Alarmed by this news, a group of parents from Tiruvannamalai approached the District Collector. And in his capacity as the School Management Committee Chairman, the district authority relieved Thakur from the post, appointing a senior member of the staff as the acting principal.
The Collector's swift response has put the parents at ease temporarily. But they have one stinging question for the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangatan (KVS) , the body responsible for the appointment and transfer of KV staff.
"Why in the world would KVS post an educator accused of child sexual abuse back in a school where he would be in contact with lakhs of children?" asks TS Sankar, who also happens to be the Vice President of the Parent Teachers' Association of the Tiruvannamalai branch.
The threat of professional abusers
But according to activists who work closely with children who have survived sexual abuse in schools, this is common practice
"Such instances are very common in Government schools. Principals and teachers accused of sexual abuse are merely transferred and allowed to be in close contact with children," points out Vidya Reddy of Tulir. "When a case of sexual abuse is reported in a private school, there is more attention paid to it because it hits closer to home. Children in government schools do not get the same kind of attention," she adds.
She further points out that educators accused of sexual offences pose a grave threat to children and have to be handled with extra caution.
"Sexual misconduct by an educator has to be dealt in a serious and immediate manner. Unlike in other such offences, these perpetrators are in close proximity to the children constantly. It is well researched world wide that there are a category of abusers who choose professions which bring them closer to their victims. These could be people in school, NGOs and other child related occupations," she points out.
Professional abuse is a pattern of conduct in which a person abuses, violates, or takes advantage of a victim within the context of his or her profession. In a typical case of professional abuse, the abuser is in a position of authority over the victim. And the victim, in this context - a child, has good reason to place trust in the abuser.
"The Centre should ideally suspend educators against whom such allegations have been made. And if that is not possible they can move him or her to a desk job which gives no opportunity to communicate with children," explains Vidya.
Infact, the Consolidated guidelines and Instructions issued by Department of Personnel Training of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions say a central government employee can be suspended if he or she is found involved in an offence or conduct involving moral turpitude. This suspension can be put into force even when the case is under investigation and before a prima facie case has been established.
But legal experts point out that trial and investigation in such cases extend over several years and it would be injustice to the accused if he/she is found not guilty at the end of it. While trial under the POCSO act is expected to end within a year, it is hardly ever the case.
"When court cases stretch to five or six years, it doesn't make sense to keep an accused under suspension. What if he is proved not guilty later? The courts would have failed an innocent man," says advocate Sudha Ramalingam. "But this does not mean that a man accused of child sexual abuse can be kept in close proximity to children. He should instead be given an administrative job away from the school premises," she points out.
The Tiruvannamalai collector too agrees with this.
"The biggest problem in Kumar Thakur's appointment was that he was made prinicpal and that means he would have control and power over the all the staff and children. At least if he was part of the non-teaching staff, he could have been monitored by senior members of the administration," he explains.
KVS defending the accused?
But time and again, KVS has allowed the accused in this case to be in close contact with minor. Following the debacle in Bengaluru, Thakur was moved to a school in Karwar in Karnataka.
The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) had then strongly opposed the move and termed it 'illegal'.
But DK Dwivedi, Assistant Commissioner (Vigilance), KVS had said, "As per the rules, an accused principal is not allowed to stay near the spot where the incident took place or come in contact with any witness, including students and teachers. Accordingly, we had transferred him to a school in Karwar. Initially, he was asked to go on leave but we revoked it so that he could come back for inquiries."
HRD Ministry defends decision
When TNM contacted a regional officer of the CBSE to understand how the board wished to address this issue, he claimed that the career of the principal was at stake.
"There are a set of rules that need to be followed. We can't function as per our whims and fancies. There will be his interests and career to also be considered," he says, under the condition of anonymity. "He is an employee of the KVS and they decide what happens," he adds, distancing the board from the issue.
KVS however failed to respond to TNM and even the PTA of the Tiruvannamalai KV despite repeated phone calls and mails.
TNM then contacted the Human Resources and Development Ministry under which KVS falls.
"Yes, he has been transferred but this is only after an inquiry was conducted in the previous school. They must have found it satisfactory enough to avoid suspension," says Upendra Kushwaha, Minister of State, HRD Ministry. "Central rules may warrant suspension (in offences of moral turpitude) but we have to see if the case is worth suspending someone for. We can't take action till then," he claims.
When we point that he could atleast be moved to a non-teaching position, the MoS says, "Principals don't interact with students much."
But wasn't Thakur the principal when he was first accused of sexual abuse? The MoS then proceeds to claim that only the KVS can answer these questions.
According to reports, the internal inquiry conducted by KVS found strong and clinching evidence against Thakur. The Sangathan was aware that the principal had zero chances of escape from the case. Despite this, they had allowed for his transfer to another school.
"By allowing an accused against whom there is strong evidence to continue as Principal, KVS is emboldening child sexual abusers," says advocate Kannadasan, who handled the Hasini murder case in Chennai. "Now, perpetrators will think that not only can they escape punishment, but a body monitored by the Centre will support their efforts to do so."