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Demanding Accountability: The Case Of Chennai Schools

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, sexual harassment, casteism, bullying. 

Recently, several current and graduate students of Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB) School, Chennai have come forward with testimonials of a certain school faculty making “sexual advances and sexually colored remarks” toward them. Following social media outrage — the faculty of C. Rajagopalan’s suspension was confirmed through an official statement. However, this move has been taken only after multiple accusations started pouring out and becoming viral on social media.

In the past, the school management had not only refuted these claims but had taken no action at all. In addition to being suspended, Rajagopalan (who also formed a part of the sexual harassment committee of PSBB), was arrested under POCSO Act. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K Stalin has also ordered the creation of a special helpline for students to reach out to in case of abuse and/or misconduct. A special committee has been established, as well, to check online classes for sexual harassment.

Consequently, PSBB’s history of casteism and harassment coming to light has exposed a slew of sexual harassment and misconduct cases in several other prestigious Chennai schools and universities such as Sastra University and Maharishi Vidya Mandir Velammal.

One such school is Chettinad Vidyashram, located in Chennai’s R.A Puram. Alumni and present students of the private school have also taken to social media to put forward their grievances related to select school faculties and their inappropriate sexually charged behavior with students. The most alarming part, however, is that some of these complaints have been put forth by batches of the school dating back to the 1990s.

The school staff, namely Mr. Azhagu, Mr. Safiyulaah, Mr. Vakeesan, and Mr. Shanmugam, have been subject to allegations of groping, sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, making sexually colored remarks, and inappropriate touching among other things. Alumni of Chettinad Vidyashram have reportedly sent across a statement regarding recent happenings to the management, demanding accountability and proposing structural solutions to make the school a safer and healthier place.

Alumni Association Statement to the Institution’s Management

With over 900 signatories, alumni have also issued an open letter which was sent to the Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Alumni’s Open Letter to the School Management and State Commission for Protection of Child Rights

As of 29th May 2021, the school’s management has acknowledged the alumni association’s statement, assuring that “appropriate action will be initiated.

In wake of social media platforms being flooded with complaints and testimonials, several alumni of various institutions (including but not limited to PSBB, CV, BVM, PS Senior, etc.) issued a form titled “Chennai Schools Reporting Initiative” which aimed to anonymously collect student reports of inappropriate behavior and misconduct at schools for systematic collation.

Chennai Schools Reporting Initiative Google Form

An alumna of CV informs that the form has collected over 300 responses thus far. The complaints range from caste-based discrimination, sexist statements, inappropriate behavior, spying on students, slut-shaming, moral policing, and more. The staff has reportedly made judgemental remarks about girls’ bodies, shamed and bullied boys publicly for underperforming in tests, etc. Such experiences have left students disturbed, bereft, and scared — forcing some of them to battle anxiety and depression even after their school life. However, since these complaints are largely anonymous — they cease to be legally actionable. For legal action to be taken, formal complaints must be filed to the school via the principal’s official e-mail address.

The findings of the report have been shared with Dr. Saranya JaiKumar — an educational psychologist and member of the TN Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Dr. JaiKumar informs that the State Commission has inquiries and inspections at several schools including Chettinad Vidyashram. Summons have been issued to three schools — with few more institutions and training centers in the pipeline.

TN Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ Press Statement

The TN Commission for Protection of Child Rights has released a press statement regarding the same on 28th May 2021, noting that all officers and teachers of Chettinad Vidyashram, among other schools, have been directed to appear before the commission for serious inquiry on 8th June 2021.

The question, however, remains the same: Is it not the moral and ethical responsibility of schools to safeguard the interests of their students? Would these schools have taken action or complied with the Commission’s orders without alumni outrage and burgeoning media pressure from throughout the country? Is expecting accountability a faraway dream?

The situation is grim and students and alumni await justice. Will schools get away scot-free?

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 dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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