Hurry up, it’s time

Bincy P K, a scientist and former student of St Gemma’s Girls HSS, could not suppress her rage when she came across Sasi’s Facebook post and the responses.

Published: 17th May 2022 06:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2022 01:24 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

It was a Facebook post that triggered the avalanche. A few days ago, Sasi Kumar K V, a teacher and CPM councillor in Malappuram, announced on social media his retirement from a popular school in the district. Soon farewell wishes and paeans poured in. But one response stood out. It left Kerala shocked, shaken.

Bincy P K, a scientist and former student of St Gemma’s Girls HSS, could not suppress her rage when she came across Sasi’s Facebook post and the responses. Almost in a reflex action, she went on to reveal how the schoolteacher had allegedly abused students for years.  

“I am not an active Facebook user. But when I saw a screenshot of his post on the WhatsApp group of school alumni and saw several messages praising him, I couldn’t stay silent,” says Bincy, who works with Indian Council for Agricultural Research in Kochi. 

“I didn’t plan this. However, other former students soon came out with their horrific experiences. Many were victims of his heinous acts and many were witnesses. That teacher worked in that school for 38 years and abused students almost throughout his career.”

With allegations against Sasi piling up, the alumni group decided to file a joint petition. It was signed by about 50 people, including victims. Bincy, who witnessed some of the alleged incidents, says Sasi mainly targeted students from Class V to Class VII. “We found that he continued abusing students until recently. Imagine how many victims would be there, people who are still going through the trauma,” she says. “And what is shocking is that he was allowed to teach in that school.”  

Bincy says Sasi rose to prominence in society riding on the school’s success. “He became a municipal councillor three times.,” she notes.

Beena Pillai, a lawyer and an alumnus of the school, recently called a press conference to explain the developments in the case. “We have filed cases of incidents that happened from 1992 to recent years,” she says. “Though we approached the school they didn’t respond. Even after filing a  police complaint, the school didn’t respond. More victims are coming out and I’m helping them file complaints. Sasi was allowed to abuse hundreds of students for more than 25 years.” 

This is a moment for deep introspection, says Beena. “I am sure this happens in many schools in the state,” she adds. “This points toward a failure in our education system. In such cases, most schools try to protect their status and their image rather than the students. They protect teachers like him, while students carry generations of trauma.”

Beena says some students and parents had raised complaints before the St Gemma’s Girls HSS management in Malappuram. “But for some reason, the school tried to settle these cases and never took appropriate action against the teacher,” she says.

Though the school had a student counsellor, students never felt safe approaching her with complaints, says another former student. 

No safe space
Anupama Mili, a journalist and former student of the school, says the institution did not have a safe environment where children could openly communicate their worries. “The school has a very strict environment. It became a prestigious institute because of its disciplinary approach. More effort goes into maintaining its prestigious name than ensuring the safety of children. If someone complains to teachers, they will just slut shame the young students instead,” she alleges. “In the past, many had raised complaints before the management, but nothing came out of it. The situation would be the same in many other schools in our state.” She adds that the alumni group is trying to protect the identity of victims. “There are many threats coming in against them,” says Anupama.

Not an isolated incident
Renjitha K R, a psychosocial school counsellor at Government Girls HSS, Nedumangad, says: “In addition to the family issues and peer conflicts reported by students, many incidents of sexual harassment have been reported by both male and female students in many of the schools in the state. However, it was not taken up seriously by school authorities.”She recalls one such case in which a female student shared her ordeal with the counsellor. “The girl was being sexually harassed by her teacher. Based on the statement of the student, the teacher was taken into police custody. However, the management removed the school counsellor.” Renjitha also points to the lack of separate counselling rooms even in “hi-tech schools”. So, she adds, counsellors are forced to take sessions in staffrooms, which often makes students hesitant to open up. 

Need better scrutiny
Manaswi, a mother and an activist from Thiruvananthapuram, says the fault lies with the system. “There should be a team dedicated to the scrutiny of schools. The school counsellor is part of the institution in most private schools. Would they take the side of the student or the institute?” she asks. “There should be better monitoring of teachers’ behaviour.” 

She also stresses the need for spreading awareness among children about good and bad touch and about Childline (1098), which can be used to raise complaints with just a phone call. Kochi-based child psychologist Greeshma Natraj agrees with tighter scrutiny of teachers. “Schools always monitor students and call the parents with complaints if their child misbehaves. This mechanism should apply to teachers as well,” she says.  

Mental health consultant Seema Lal says the issue of abuse by teachers involves a “power struggle”. 
Hence, children are always at a disadvantage due to the fear factor.  “According to studies, 90 per cent of the abuse happens at the hands of trusted adults,” she says.  She highlights that the mental health of affected children is often neglected. 

“Most schools do not even have committees to address issues faced by children,” she points out, adding that “a syllabus” should be formed to tackle such cases.

ALSO READ | “Good touch-Bad touch” not enough, need to revoke these misnomers

Fear, shame 
According to Beena Pillai, raising complaints is not easy, especially since the victims tend to be ashamed of the incident and are scared of the ‘powerful’ abuser. “Many didn’t even know how to express what he was doing to them. Many were ashamed to talk about it,” she says. “As a society, we always teach kids to be ashamed of their bodies. So just teaching children about bad touch is not enough. We need to educate them about what to do when a bad touch happens. We need to make sure they are not ashamed of their body. For instance, girls should be able to utter the word ‘breasts’ without fear or shame. Only then would they be confident enough to speak out against such incidents.”

Mum’s the word
The former students’ multiple allegations of sexual assualt hasn’t so far received any response from the school where the incidents happened. “Though we approached the school they didn’t respond,”says Beena Pillai . The Women and Child Development Department was unavailable to officially respond to the issue even after multiple attempts.

Sexual assault allegations against a leader and a former school teacher from Malappuram are piling up. With each revelation, some disturbing questions pop up: How did this alleged predator get away for 25 years? How many more cases before the system finally acts?



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