On 23rd May 2021, several students of Padma Sheshadri Bala Bhavan(PSBB) School took to Twitter to call out the inappropriate behaviour of a teacher in its KK Nagar Branch. The allegations from current students prompted alumni of the school to speak up about similar experiences, resulting in a Twitter storm demanding disciplinary and legal action against the professor.
The allegations made by the students were initially shared on the Instagram page of a former student of the school, Kripali. She told The Hindu that some students had initially reached out to her to ask if students from her batch had faced such sexual misconduct from a Commerce teacher G. Rajagopalan. He has reportedly been teaching Commerce for over 20 years at the PSBB.
After receiving the first message, I put out a message asking students currently studying in the school to get in touch with me about the same. After speaking to a few of them, I began to share their experiences,” she said. Several students responded to her messages and shared instances of Mr Rajagopalan’s inappropriate behaviour in offline and online classes.
After the post going viral on social media, his suspension was confirmed by an official statement released by the school.
PSBB media release pic.twitter.com/Ruibaqy31o
— chethana (@iamdatemike) May 25, 2021
Previously, the Dean, Director and Correspondent of the group of schools and the principal of the school refuted the allegations that these concerns had been brought to the attention of the management in the past, and no action was taken.
“However, we are taking suo motu notice of the allegations and will take all necessary steps to address the situation in a free, fair and transparent manner. The welfare of our students has always been and will be our top priority,” they said in an official media statement.
Their statement further elicited upon the zero-tolerance policy towards any behaviour that adversely affects the physical, emotional and psychological well being of their students.
The Almunus of PSBB, many of them in distinguished positions- stood in solidarity with the students by signing a petition demanding accountability from the management and participating in a Twitter storm. This revelation encourages many alumni to speak of their experiences too and pushed for a larger conversation about the safety of educational spaces, gender sensitivity in schools and management’s policy towards sexual abuse in schools.
As an Alumnus of PSBB KK Nagar, I stand with the victims of sexual harassment.This is a statement that over 1000 students who were PSBB alumni have signed. This has been sent to the management today.
We demand accountability from the management and immediate action. pic.twitter.com/1olihtCPYv
— chethana (@iamdatemike) May 24, 2021
As in many cases of a report of sexual abuse or misconduct, many people, including some alumni were quick to defend the professor, on the basis of their personal experience. We need to understand that sexual predators do not behave the same with everyone. So your experience with someone does not negate anybody’s experience of sexual assault.
“I know him, he’s a harmless fellow- just has a bad sense of humour which I warned about many times. He is not a predator and all,” said an alumna of PSBB, who chose to remain anonymous.
Statement from the class of 2007 supporting Mr. Rajagopalan pic.twitter.com/MEIEprAx3Z
— chethana (@iamdatemike) May 24, 2021
Statements like these are precisely what deter many victims from speaking up- especially children. A report from MOSAC states how many children who are sexually assaulted experience heightened anxiety and guilt- so if your primary instinct is to doubt the victim and blatantly disregard what they have been through makes you part of the larger problem- how gender-sensitive are we?
One amongst thousands of cases, statistics in India is no stranger to child sex abuse in school and other educational spaces.
A classroom is not merely textbooks and students and professors with academic capabilities. They’re incubators of a generation of thought – and every aspect of its atmosphere is equally important. How does the academic excellence of professors make up for their lack of sensitivity in classrooms, worse even- sexual misconduct? It is imperative that schools have adequate mechanisms to not only take swift action against perpetrators in the form of committees but also create a culture of safety, inclusivity and sensitivity in education spaces- a culture that is as important as teaching and learning Math, English or Science.
It’s high time that school managements move beyond educational expertise in appointing teachers. A person that is not well adjusted or displays problematic behaviour cannot be a good teacher- no matter how well they teach their subject. We need thorough gender sensitisation programmes for students and teachers which clearly establishes what is appropriate and inappropriate, intolerance towards sexism, shaming and bullying in classrooms.
It is the right of every student to learn and grow in an environment that is physically, mentally and emotionally safe and enriching. No, it is not a “bad sense of humour”, or “friendly behaviour”. It’s predatory behaviour that has made students feel uncomfortable and unsafe in their classrooms and playgrounds, and schools cannot become cradles for criminal behaviour.
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.