news Saturday, May 02, 2015 - 05:30

On April 28, 2015, as an online outrage cycle was underway following a suggestion by some teachers in Tamil Nadu to impose a dress code on female teachers, TMN Deepak, a social activist in Chennai, was at an important hearing of the National Human Rights Commission in nearby Puducherry. The outrage was a result of members of some teachers’ association suggesting that to tackle 'increasing' cases of female teachers eloping with students, teachers must follow a dress code directing them to be covered from head to toe. But Deepak, ironically, was appealing to the NHRC to order the suspension of four male teachers in Puducherry who were allegedly caught watching porn in the school in 2013. Shockingly, the teachers have been reinstated after being suspended initially. Their trial is still underway in Puducherry. “The state level agencies have failed us. We want the NHRC to monitor this case now,” says Deepak. He has appealed to the NHRC members who were present in Puducherry that the commission take this case more seriously. It has not been easy for the state education department to take action either. They have no written complaints from the parents, who are wary of long-drawn legal processes. The parents are not willing to be witnesses in the ongoing trial too. Activists, however, say that the education department should have been more proactive. “The issue here is of witness protection.  The parents were not willing to come forward because they are scared. The fear of public shame was put into them,” says A Narayanan, and asks, “If the children belonged to the family of an education department official, would the case have taken the same course?” On November 26, 2013, a girl at the Thiru Vi Ka Government High School in Arumparthapuram, Puducherry complained to her parents that one of the teachers misbehaved with her at school. The enraged parents took it up with the school the next day, and when several parents joined in, it emerged that teachers at the school were guilty of more than just that. Two days later, four teachers, Jude Anbazhagan, Sivakumar, Abdul Malik and Abdul Rashid were arrested for allegedly watching pornography on school computers, forcing some girls to join them and molestation. The arrests were made under the under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Section 354A (IV) of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act. Activists, too, swung into action. The initial police complaint, in fact, was filed by the Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Vidyaa Ramkumar, who was notified by the Parent Teacher Association and the School Monitoring Committee. Later, another activist, A Narayanan wrote to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights seeking intervention. The Commission sought a report from the state’s department of education, a copy of which is available with The News Minute. According to that report, on September 30, 2013, the School Monitoring Committee received complaints about flailing performance of students of grade 10, especially in the Social Sciences subject taught by Jude Anbazhagan. Complaints were received about the other three teachers also. A proposal for their transfer was mounted, but no action was taken. When complaints were received again in November, the Chief Educational officer visited the school. The department of education decided to transfer them to other schools, perhaps assuming students in the other schools were not at risk. But when the incident was reported in the media, the department clambered to get the teachers suspended. The Crime Branch – Criminal Investigation Department (CBCID) initiated an investigation following the filing of an FIR filed by the CWC. The teachers were arrested, and later let out on bail but asked to remain in Mahe, a part of Puducherry geographically situated in Kerala. But since the parents of the children affected were not willing to come forward as witnesses, the education department refused to take further action. Quoting procedures, the department has maintained till today that its hands are tied. At the NHRC hearing, it emerged that the education department had reinstated the teachers. Till then, nobody knew of their whereabouts, and it was assumed they were under suspension. In all probability, those teachers are still out there, teaching young children. At the NHRC hearing, the state education secretary, E Vallavan, stated that there was no proof of pornography being watched, only some salacious music videos. But a representative of the CBCID intervened stating that there is enough evidence that pornographic sites were downloaded in the computers, but there was no concrete proof that it was those specific teachers who were involved in that. The CWC Chairperson, Vidyaa Ramkumar, was taken aback when she heard of the reinstatement on Tuesday. “I have asked a probationary officer to find out which school they have been transfered to, we should know the details next week since the holiday season is on. But keeping the interest of the children in mind, we don’t think they should have been allowed to get back,” she says. With the issue coming to the fore yet again, activists expect that the education department is forced to reveal where the teachers are working and that the parents in those schools be informed of their presence. “We want the education department to take it more seriously, and we are going to keep up the pressure on them,” says Deepak. Deepak also says that institutional changes have to be made. For one, activists want a specific police force to take up crimes against children.  They also ask that School Monitoring Committees and Parent Teacher Associations be given more say in policymaking, and a role in implementation. But with an inherent lack of accountability of government teachers, activists say, the process of change must begin with a focus on that.   The writer has worked with India Institute in the past.

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