In a shocking revelation, the visually challenged female students of Model School, run by the National Institute of Visually Handicapped in Dehradun, alleged that they have been sexually harassed by their music teachers in the campus. The complainants, in their First Information Report (FIR), alleged that Suchit Narang, a music teacher at the institute has not only been making lewd comments about the female students in the class but also molested them at various occasions.
However, this is not the first time when the institute run by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has been in news for similar charges. In April, a group of students had alleged that they were sexually harassed by another music teacher. The charges led to the arrest of the teacher who is now facing a trial in the court.
Miffed with the consistent negligence of their complaints, the students of the school began their strike on August 16. They alleged that the issues could have been resolved, had their demands, including the termination of the teacher, been accepted. The director of the institute, Anuradha Dalmia, resigned after the visit of the State Child Rights Commission Chairperson Usha Negi, who found substance in the allegations leveled by the students.
Speaking with NewsClick, a student who requested anonymity said that they have been constantly raising the issues with the administration. He said, "The accused has been touching the girls inappropriately. We raised the issue with the principal and the director. The administration took action against one teacher when the students were on annual leave, and we came to know about the action only on July 1, when the campus was opened. "
He added, "The students wanted to raise the issue of other teachers, but the director told us very rudely Jo karna hai karlo [Do whatever you want to]."
Responding to the question on the working of the sexual harassment committee, he maintained that they were not made aware about the body by the administration and said,"Humein is baare kuchh bhi nahi bataya gaya." (We were not informed about any such body.)
Commenting on the rampant sexual harassment in the campus, Muralidharan, General Secretary, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled, said the charges by the students of the institute are serious in nature and call for strict action.
He said, "The charges are very serious in nature. The first complaint was made by a boy in April this year against two teachers. Action, however, was taken against only one of the teachers and the boy was transferred to a school in Delhi. Protests had started at that time itself but the administration made efforts to curb it strictly. Later, other girls started complaining that they too were sexually assaulted by the other accused teacher against whom no action was taken. There were also other grievances among the students. This is what led to the students to go on a strike."
However, he maintained the emergence of these incidents at regular intervals is not a new or surprising phenomenon in the institutions for disabled people. He added, "Allegations of sexual assaults on both boys and girls, staying in such institutions run both by the government and in the private sector by NGOs, are not new. They have been coming out in the open at regular intervals. This is specially so in institutions where girls/boys with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues are lodged. Even the NHRC has had to pass strictures against the Pavlov Hospital, Kolkata."
Responding to a question on the possible solutions to check incidents of sexual harassment, he said that the governments have been opting temporary measures whenever any scandal comes out. Maneka Gandhi has ordered the social audit of shelter homes of the country only after the Muzaffarpur tragedy was unearthed by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. But the country needs a permanent mechanism to fix it. The country was taken aback when the inmates of a shelter home in Bihar's Muzzafarpur alleged repeated rapes by the convenor of the home.
Also read: Bihar Shelter Homes Scandal: TISS Report Depicts the Shocking State of Affairs
He said, "After the December 2013 gangrape of a girl in Delhi (popularly known as the Nirbhaya case), the Justice Verma Committee was constituted to look into the criminal laws governing sexual assaults. This provided us an opportunity to place issues from the perspective of girls/women with disabilities. One of the main issues we had raised was for social audits/monitoring of such institutions at regular intervals. We had proposed that such monitoring should be conducted by a team consisting of the representatives of disabled persons’ organisations/NGOs, local elected representatives, representatives from the government, etc. The Verma Committee, however, recommended that the High Court should act as the overseeing body. But nothing happened with that either."
"That there is a need for such mechanisms has come out more starkly with the exposures in the Muzaffarpur and Bhopal cases, These, however, were run by private entities. In the current case, it is a government run institution and hence, the government cannot evade responsibility. Those in power presume that they can get away, especially when the victims are more vulnerable. Those in the administration who had tried to shield the guilty should also be proceeded against. They are bound by duty to report such cases, as per the law."
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