Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB), a famous chain of schools based in Chennai, has run into a huge controversy after a teacher was accused of sexually harassing girl students. With the school initially refusing any such issues being brought to their knowledge, it later said that the management has never received any written complaints. However, the school has suspended the teacher, according to press release by the management.
The teacher has been arrested under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, after the controversy broke out. While social media has been abuzz with demands for justice for the survivors and accountability from the management, a number of right wing activists, including a few Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have allegedly come out in support of the school.
The culprit was sent to judicial custody on May 25 following a severe outcry of sexual harassment was raised by several students. The state government has also decided to set up a committee to look into the complaints from the students of PSBB.
ALUMNI EXPOSE HARASSMENT ISSUE
Soon after the controversy erupted over the teacher who teaches Commerce in PSBB, the school found support from alleged right wing groups and leaders. The allegation of harassment was raised by an alumni who shared stories with screenshots of the chat between the teacher and students on the social media platform, Instagram.
Many other social activists, politicians and parties have demanded immediate action and a detailed enquiry on the incidents
The general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), P Suganthi said, “The PSBB school should have been the complainant in this sexual harassment issue, but it failed to do so. This shows the management has failed in its duty to protect the girl students in the school who were suffering from haunting experiences of sexual harassment, despite several complaints as per the information available.”
AIDWA has also demanded that the students from both government and private schools should be sensitised about the POCSO Act, which is highly lacking. “The teachers and staff of all the schools must be apprised of the Act and the outcome of getting involved in sexually harassing the students,” Suganthi said.
A helpline number was released on May 25 for the affected students to register complaints of sexual harassment in the school and a section of the media reported that more than 30 complaints were received within hours.
ALLEGED RIGHT WING GROUPS SUPPORT SCHOOL
The right wing groups, including a few leaders from the BJP, allegedly extended support to the school and advocated that the school should not be held accountable for the actions of the teacher.
The school has been embroiled in controversy for alleged caste hegemony and giving priority to students belonging to the brahmin caste in admissions and other activities. Several students have shared stories of such humiliation on social media platforms as well.
Musician A R Rahman, who had dropped out from the school, had said in an interview earlier that the teachers in the school had asked his mother to beg at the railway station if she was unable to pay the fees.
The quality policy of the school states that it aims to provide ‘holistic and progressive education’ along with its intention to ‘imbibe our cultural heritage and values’. Many social activists have pointed out to this approach of the schools for the support extended by the right wing groups.
One of the trustees of the school, Y G Mahendran’s daughter Y G Madhuvanthi is the state executive member of the BJP.
In a Twitter Space organised by Arjun Sampath, the founder of Hindu Makkal Katchi, Y G Madhuvanthi accused the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government of targeting schools run by brahmins.
The Twitter Space, which was titled “Are educational institutions being attacked”, was hosted by Arjun Sampath. Madhuvanthi participated in the space as one of the speakers and reportedly said, “As soon as the election result was out, they made me aware of it. It is expected. People who belong to Dravidian parties are targeting schools like Padma Seshadri and spreading anti-brahmin wave for 50 long years. They need brahmin girls if they want children for their future generation. They also need brahmin collectors, brahmin lawyers and brahmin doctors to hear suggestions from. But they will oppose brahminism,” Madhuvanthi said as reported by Chennaimemes.in.
Another local BJP leader reportedly claimed that the students are used to watching adult movies and their allegations must not be taken into serious consideration.
MANAGEMENT REFUTES CHARGES, ALUMNI DEMAND ACTION
The management in two statements in two days gave contradictory information on the sexual harassment issue. In the first statement, the management said that they were not informed of such incidents, while in the second statement they claimed of not receiving any written complaints on the issue.
A press release by the management on May 25 stated that the teacher has been suspended and a formal enquiry has been initiated to look into the conduct of the teacher and necessary action will be taken based on the findings. The principal of the school, Geeta Govindrajan said, “We have never received any written complaint in this matter from anyone. The behaviour of one teacher does not in any way detract from the highest standards of professionalism that our teachers uphold. For us our students’ welfare is absolutely sacrosanct.”
But, in one of the screenshots made public, a student accused that the management did not act against the written complaints and the students were threatened with lodging complaints.
After the incident came to light, 1,000 alumni of the school published a statement seeking action against the accused teacher.
The statement demanded that the child protection and gender sensitivity committee be apprised of the incident and an independent investigation against the accused with an adequate number of external members commences with immediate effect.
In spite of several allegations and the management shifting goal posts on the issue, the right wing groups allegedly continue to extend undeterred support to the PSBB management. Meanwhile, the civil society, women's organisations and several political parties have condemned the attitude of the school in handling the sexual harassment issue.