By Smita Sharma:
Kamalika’s untimely death at the age of 17 was not a matter of chance. She committed suicide by jumping off the seventh story of a building. She did this because her school – the very institution that is expected to teach about morals and ethics – failed her.
In September 2010, when she was 13, Kamalika spoke up about a sexual assault incident she had faced in school. She was assaulted by a classmate during school hours on school premises. Instead of being supportive, her teachers labelled her as an attention seeker, a liar, and pointed fingers towards her character.
The principal refused to acknowledge her complaint and instead remarked that the boy was innocent. When Kamalika’s mother went to complain about the incident to the principal, she was rebuked and instead told that, “These things keep on happening everywhere. Why are you making a huge issue of it? Don’t bring a bad name to the school and spoil its reputation.”
In her diary, she wrote that life was never the same after that incident. That if someone had listened to her, maybe then she would have been able to bear the burden. Instead, she was shunned and bullied by the very people who should have stood up for her.
My cousin is not alone. There are thousands of young women just like her who face assault and harassment and have no one to turn to. They fear being shamed and ostracized – they fear being blamed for something they never did or wanted. Most teachers have no empathy or skills to deal with such sensitive issues. They take the teaching job – a “noble profession”, as just another job to receive a salary at the end of the month and complete the syllabus.
Counselling is an important part of the education process in many countries, but in India, this basic and much needed facility is not provided in most schools. Kamalika, with support from her family had gone to a professional counsellor to seek support. The Principal, Ms Snigdha Deb chided Kamalika’s mother for taking her to a counsellor and commented, “What is the use of going to a counsellor. If you were a good mother, you wouldn’t require going to a counsellor.”
I have started a petition to implore HRD Minister Smriti Irani to issue guidelines to all schools, asking them to ensure that if a student speaks up, they must be given access to professional counselling.
Furthermore, a “code of conduct” must be instituted, and proper training must be provided to school teachers and principals to ensure an empathetic environment. An independent civil society group that has experience in dealing with sexual abuse and assault must develop the training material.
PM Modi has launched the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” scheme to ensure a girl child’s prosperity, education and life. Kamalika couldn’t be saved, but others can.
It’s time we stopped covering up sexual assault in India. Let’s ensure that when a child is assaulted in any way, he/she will receive professional guidance to cope and deal with such incidents.
Sign my petition to ensure that the government provides our kids with a safe, healthy, and terror free environment in schools. Let’s ensure every student in India has access to the professional counselling they need.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.