Chennai: Recent times have seen several incidents of sexual abuse and harassment of students in schools of Tamil Nadu. Women journalists have also been facing abuses, derogatory comments and personal attacks on social media platforms.
Many of these abusers have been put behind bars in the past few days, including a self-styled godman-turned-academician and a few social media influencers.
Sivasankar Baba, who runs Sushil Hari International Residential School in the suburbs of Chennai, was arrested from Uttarakhand after sexual harassment charges were made by some students of the school. He has been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Kishore K Swamy, a social media influencer, who has close proximity to Right wing groups, has been booked in several cases filed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and some women journalists. Swamy had a free run during the previous regime despite several FIRs being filed against him.
Another famous PUBG gamer, Madan Kumar, and his wife were arrested by the police after there were complaints of abusive and sexual remarks made many of their YouTube videos. Durai Murugan, another YouTuber and leader of a Tamil nationalist group, was also booked for threatening shopkeepers.
‘LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN PRIVATE SCHOOLS’
The number of sexual harassment complaints in some reputed private schools in Tamil Nadu has also been increasing of late. After allegations of harassment from students of Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan leading to the arrest of some teachers, students from other schools have also started lodging complaints.
Students of Sushil Hari International Residential School, run by Shree Ramarajya Trust in Chennai, lodged complaints against the founder Sivasankar Baba, who was on the run and was arrested in Uttarakhand by the Tamil Nadu Police. An interview with a former student of the school sent shockwaves on the alleged happenings in the campus.
Many critics cite the lack of transparency and accessibility to some of these private schools as a major reason for increasing incidents of sexual harassment.
Critical of the ‘rigidity’ of some of these private schools, Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary of Tamil Nadu State Platform for Common School System (TNSPCSS), asked: “Why are private schools so confined and restricted? Why do they fear the society? Several abuses happen inside such schools, apart from sexual abuses. When a private person or trust or society or group of persons runs an institution, it cannot be called a school. It can be called so only when the government runs it”.
In Tamil Nadu, private schools have mushroomed in the past few years, thanks to the policies of different governments, leaving government schools short of students.
“These schools build a brand name and sell that for huge profits. Children studying in such schools are considered superior to those in smaller or government schools. The aspirations of parents are imposed on children, leaving them vulnerable to different exploits”, Prince added.
‘EDUCATE CHILDREN AND THE SOCIETY’
The lack of awareness and gender sensitisation among stakeholders are contributing to such incidents. While few cases have some to the fore, several schools continue to face such issues.
“Both boys and girls are vulnerable to sexual harassment, which must be stopped effectively and quickly. Make gender equality a part of the curriculum. Classroom and social discussions must take place. The notion that women are subordinate to men has been inculcated in the minds of children. It can be seen among students, between students and faculty and within family”, Prince added.
Reacting to the proposal to fix CCTV cameras in classrooms, Prince said: “Fixing cameras will result in further harassment of children. It will not be a democratic classroom. A system must be evolved to keep a watch on how classrooms are functioning”.
TNSPCSS has been demanding an upgrade of all schools to ensure equal access to education for all.
“If the government is talking about a $5 trillion economy, why is it not able to ensure free and quality education for all? All schools must be provided all facilities to ensure a common school system. This could help in bringing an end to the education business also end cases of harassment”, he added.
‘SOCIAL MEDIA ABUSER ARRESTED’
Kishore K Swamy was arrested after a DMK functionary complained of derogatory comments on former chief ministers C N Annadurai and M Karunanidhi and current Chief Minister M K Stalin. Prior to this, several cases have been filed against him by women journalists and political parties have also held protests seeking action against him.
Swamy, a ‘political commentator’, was having a free run despite 12 cases filed by journalists alone. Cine artist Rohini has also registered a complaint after his arrest.
Sonia, a journalist, said: “After a case was filed against him for derogatory comments, he absconded. While he was arrested after two days last year, he was let off within three hours due to alleged pressure. He appealed for anticipatory bail, but after 10 months, it was rejected in May 2021. But, despite losing immunity, he was not arrested immediately”.
Though several activists welcomed Swamy’s arrest, they also questioned why his arrest was delayed. Police inaction is also being blamed for the delay.
“The demand for anticipatory bail was rejected in May 2021 citing his (Swamy’s) cruel comments against the modesty of working women. But he was not arrested even after 20 days. He was arrested by CCB on another complaint. We are expecting the police to take swift action. The police should act without considering who is ruling the state”, Sonia said.
Various other forums have also demanded stringent action on social media abuses and harassment.
GAMER, YOUTUBER ARRESTED
Madan Kumar, a popular YouTuber known for his gaming skills, was also arrested. He and his wife were arrested for live streaming the banned PUBG game accompanied by obscene commentary. Both were in hiding for a few days after the complaints were filed against objectionable comments made in multiple channels run by the couple.
The Madras High Court observed that it was shocked to hear the recorded conversations. The Central Crime Branch (CCB) has filed cases under the IT Act 67, 67a, IPC sections 294 b (use of obscene language in public place, 509 (intend to insult modesty of women) and the Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition) Act.
Durai Murugan, who runs a YouTube channel ‘Sattai’ (Whip), was arrested in Trichy for threatening an individual, Vinoth, for posting comments against late Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader, Prabhakaran. According to Vinoth, a group of people, along with Muragan visited the shop run by him and shot a video of his apology that went viral in social media.
DMK functionaries have also complained against the YouTuber for posting videos denigrating former chief minister, late M Karunanidhi.
However, many believe that while such temporary actions would deter hate mongers from posting objectionable comments about women, only the strengthening of existing laws and punishment will ensure that abusive incidents are brought to an end.