The controversy which kicked off with an anonymous letter written by 15 girl students to the Prime Minister snowballed into a major controversy with horrific details of predation of the now sacked principal of a government school at Jind coming into open. A report by Aayush Goel
‘A teacher is like a candle that burns itself to help a student,’ reads a proverb painted across the dainty red wall of Government Girls School, Uchana Kalan in Jind. What used to be yet another rickety government school of Haryana, has today caught national attention for being the seat of predator principal. The dusty constituency of Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala has hit headlines as young girls, fighting societal and parental pressure, have spoken up against the alleged sexual harassment by now arrested 56-year old Principal, Kartar Singh. The accused has been dismissed from service following the orders issued by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. A government spokesperson said the action has been taken under the powers conferred upon by virtue of Article 311 (b) of the Constitution.
What started with an anonymous letter by 15 girls has now snowballed into a major controversy with horrific details of molestation at the school trickling in each day even as the number of victims has increased to 142. “I wash my hands repeatedly and shudder even when my brother or father’s hand brushes against mine. I had heard rumours about him but never thought he would ever bother a normal looking girl like me. I remember that day when he called me to his office saying teachers had complained against me. Suddenly he took my hand, squeezed it and I immediately knew that was a bad touch. Within minutes when a teacher walked in, he let go of my hand and started shouting. I have been numb since I was scared of his sight. I told everything to the DEO (District Education Officer) ma’am but my parents won’t take me to the police and I am at my aunt’s home. I am happy he is gone,” a class 9 student of the school told Tehelka.
Majority of these 142 girls have similar stories which have left them scarred but sadly only 6 of them have so far recorded their statement with police. With the incident catching wider attention, the parents are now holding back their daughters and refusing to let them talk to anyone including the state enquiry teams.
The local police has already booked and arrested Kartar Singh on October 30 under Section 8 (sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act and Section 354 (molestation) of the Indian Penal Code.
“We have recorded statements of six girls so far and around 50 have given written complaints to the Education department which too are being examined. Some girls have alleged they were approached through social media platforms like Instagram and we have sought some details from Instagram for investigations. We are also looking at his past postings and complaints. The victims are being encouraged to come out and speak out. One of the victims is a Dalit, and so we will be invoking an atrocity act in FIR,” said SP Jind Sumit Kumar while speaking to Tehelka. Police suspect that the cycle of abuse began five years ago when Kartar Singh was appointed principal of the girls’ school. But how it fell through the cracks remains to be seen.
While the family members of Singh besides his supporters call the entire episode a farce and politically motivated defamation, the incident raises many questions regarding safety and security of children in state government schools. Concern has also been raised over the alleged delay in action and attempt by local authorities to brush the incident under the carpet and a victim-bashing by society, as many face the possibility of dropping out of school after the incident .
To the Prime Minister
The flood gates opened in August this year when 15 victims sent a letter to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the National Women Commission, and the State Women Commission, among others detailing allegations of sexual exploitation by the school principal involving several minor girls. After receiving the letter, the Haryana Women Commission took note of it on September 13 and sent it to Jind police for action on September 14. Police lodged an FIR only on October 30. The accused principal was arrested by the police on November 4. He was later sent to judicial custody on November 7. The letter highlighted how the accused molested more than 10 girls, resulting in many dropping out of school out of fear of sexual exploitation. It highlighted the Principal’s questionable character and multiple transfers due to molestation complaints filed by girls in the schools where he had served previously.
“We are writing this letter anonymously as the accused may harm us if he learns of our identities. This matter should be investigated by higher authorities in Chandigarh and Delhi. Girls from this school should be interviewed separately during the investigation, and none of the local teachers or staff members should be involved in the process. The girls will reveal the true nature and story of this unscrupulous principal. We have faced similar situations in his office on two occasions, and he threatened to file false complaints with our parents if we did not comply. When we confided in other teachers, they advised us to remain silent about the issue. Now, prompt and just action must be taken in this matter,” the letter stated.
Tales of Horror
With an enquiry marked into the issue, the local administration constituted a committee headed by the local SDM with DEO and DEEO (District Elementary Education Officer) that started investigations in October. While they walked in school on October 27 suspecting it to be usual student-teacher conflict, they were rattled by the horrific tales told by the girls as young as 11 of lecherous stares, inappropriate touch, improper questions and blackmail that scarred them for life.
DEO Jyoti Sheokand gathered over 300 girls of classes 9, 10, 11 and 12 in a room sans teachers and convinced them to confide in her. “They were scared that CCTVs would record their confession and faces told something was wrong and once they started even I couldn’t hold back my tears. They revealed those touches on the chest and back. Older girls from Class 9 to 12 said that the principal would ask them all sorts of inappropriate questions: Had they kissed boys? Were they sexually active? Did they enjoy it? There were 200 tales of horror which these girls couldn’t even tell their parents and we got 50 girls to fill a questionnaire, which was submitted to the State Women’s Commission,” says DEO.
“He obscured his glass office door with black paint, making it impossible to see from the outside, while he could observe the movements outside while sitting at his desk. He would call a selected girl into his office, close to his chair, and touch her inappropriately. He would divert attention by asking the victim girl to stand at a distance when someone visited his office,” the girls said in their complaint. They also blamed a female guest teacher for identifying ‘apt’ girls for him and sending them to him.
“I always thought myself to be revolutionary and when I said what he was doing was bad touch, he, with a smirk, said ‘Accept it quietly’. It’s not new for you, you go out with boys. I know where all you go to, and I will call your parents and tell them that you go outside the school. They will marry you off,” added another girl.
This committee which conducted a preliminary inquiry found Principal prima facie guilty and acting on its recommendations, disciplinary action was taken and criminal proceedings started against him. A female principal was posted at the Jind school and 16 other staff members were transferred. The infamous tinted glass door installed by Singh in school when he joined as Principal in 2018 has been removed and male teachers have been asked to keep the door open every time in the company of female students. Kartar Sing, it may be mentioned, after joining as the principal in 2018, immediately got the door with black tinted glass installed immediately. It allowed him to see if anyone was coming in, but no one from outside could see anything inside the room
Seminars to promote speaking up: Too late too little
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has issued a statement saying the government had zero tolerance for such incidents. “The accused, whosoever he may be, would not be spared. To address the issue comprehensively, Renu Bhatia, the chairperson of the Haryana State Women Commission, has been asked to organise seminars in collaboration with the police to prevent such heinous acts from occurring. Haryana has already enacted legislation to curb such incidents, including a provision for capital punishment,” Khattar said.
This however fails to placate parents and local panchayats who have accused the government of acting too late and too little. “This man has a history of sexual harassment complaints at each of his earlier posting but nobody cared. Rather than dismissing him, he was posted as principal in the girls school. Majority of complaints against him ended as never opened letters or were brushed aside. We do have sexual harassment committees but just in files,” says a retired DEO.
The Special Investigative Team (SIT) probing the case is digging into Singh’s past. They’ve so far learned that he was a senior teacher at a boys’ school where he allegedly sexually harassed the female cook. During his time at another boys’ school, he is accused of sexually harassing a non-teaching female staff member. DDRs were reportedly made but are yet to be recovered by police. At the Uchana police station, members of the SIT under DSP Amit Bhatia visit the school almost every day. They talk to parents, teachers, non-teaching staff, and students to get to the bottom of the scandal.
Meanwhile, the victims are in village scrutiny with a local perception going around that he only targeted girls who were extrovert, frank and had social media accounts or talked a lot. Following a verbal advisory from local Panchayat, girls have been made to delete social media accounts and parents are not allowing them to speak to the police.
“My daughter is in the same school. My wife ensures that she goes with proper braids and her brother drops her and picks her up from the school. We have not given her a smart phone and regularly checks her school tab. She has not been targeted, the girls who have been targeted would loiter around. They themselves invited the trouble,” says a parent Pradeep Ahlawat (name changed).