In October this year, 12 tribal girls from a Model Residential School in Kottayam complained of sexual abuse by their music teacher. They had sought help from the school authorities to no avail in early October. Now, the minor girls wanted to drop out of school and return to their villages.
The girls had been inappropriately touched over the last four months, reports The News Minute. Their school however sat on the written complaints filed by the girls on October 13 for over two weeks and continued to let the accused teacher interact with the students. Nor did they inform the police.
According to The News Minute, this gave the music teacher, Narendra Babu, ample opportunity to bully and coerce the students to withdraw their complaints. He was not alone. A few of the teachers lobbied in support of the accused and claimed that the minors were "soliciting" him. Reportedly, these teachers aided him in gas-lighting, bullying and victim shaming the girls.
The report which quotes the parents of one the victims says that the children's complaints varied, from "passing sexually suggestive comments" to "holding their hands tight" and "touching them inappropriately". The mother adds that the Senior Superintendent in-charge of the school administration had been informed about this.
Despite this, the two state departments -- Department of Public Instruction and the Scheduled Tribes Development Department -- failed to report the incident to the authorities. Incidentally, failing to report sexual crimes against a minor is against the law. Local activists and parents accuse the school of trying to protect its reputation.
It was only when the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) Executive Committee of the school came to know of the issue on October 17 that matters were escalated. At that point the school had already kept the complaints a secret from the parents for 4 days. The PTA approached the District Collector and two parents filed a complaint with the police. However, the school has still not filed a police complaint.
The violinist, Narendra Babu was finally sent on leave on October 31, after a police team led by the Deputy Superintendent of Police R Sreekumar took statements from the children. He was arrested the next day. Till then, he had continued to teach the students, and allegedly also used the time to try to convince the students to retract their complaints. At this time, three more students came forward and accused him of sexual abuse. Around 96 students have boycotted the school and returned home over the incident.
Allegedly during the intervening time between the complaint and the arrest, many of the children were harassed by the accused and his associates. They were threatened with the "wrath of God" if they didn't withdraw their complaints.
"One of the children even fainted in the assembly following seizures after she was confronted by the accused teacher," alleged Anish Parampuzha, a member of the Fraternity Movement, a local political organisation working with the parents.
"A few of the victims had already dropped out from school following the harassment -- Narendra Babu would enter their classes and ask them to withdraw their complaints. Four of his associates -- who included a senior teacher as well -- also tried to convince the children that his abuse was an expression of 'fatherly love'. The teachers also fought with the school authorities claiming that the children were soliciting the accused teacher. “It takes two hands to clap,” they said,” the mother of one of the victims told The News Minute.
The school claims that it raised the matter internally and that upon receiving the complaints the headmaster and concerned teachers were alerted. Thereafter, the Senior Superintendent informed his controlling officer who raised the issue with higher authorities inside the department. The headmaster adds that none of the written complaints had been shown to them.
On October 22 “On October 22, a project officer from the Scheduled Tribes Development Department (STDD), which is charge of the administrative affairs of the school, met the students and took their statements.
However no official complaint was forthcoming.