Rahi Gaikwad

Despite police inaction and harassment, they continue to fight for justice

Mumbai: For over a year, Asha Chimedia, a Mumbai teacher, went knocking at the doors of State-run Mahila Ayog, the National Human Rights Commission and the Maharashtra State SC/ST Commission, in vain. Now she has decided to go on a hunger strike against State authorities.

Chimedia, a former teacher from Hindi School Ramnagar, Dombivli, Thane district, is a victim of caste abuse and sexual harassment. She has filed two cases in a local court in Kalyan, Thane district, against each offence.

‘Chamar,’ ‘bhangi’ (both Scheduled Castes), ‘neech jaati ke log (lower caste people) were the abusive words used against me by the principal Chandrajeet Singh,” she alleges.

Following a police complaint two years ago, Chimedia lost her job promptly. “The police have not even recorded the witness’ statement,” she said.

Despite police inaction, Chimedia continued her fight for justice. She took recourse in law, met State authorities and sent countless number of letters to top Ministers, including Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister R.R. Patil.

However, all her hard work has been lost on an unheeding State machinery.

‘Dual discrimination’

Many Dalit teachers in the metropolis, haunted by dual discrimination, share Chimedia’s plight. Chetna Birje, a lawyer from India Centre for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL), in charge of Chimedia’s case is currently looking into five other cases of caste and sexual harassment of Dalit teachers.

Abusive, sexually explicit language, ogling and sexual innuendoes form part of their work environment by and large. Many keep mum out of fear of losing their jobs. Belonging to the “lower castes,” these women are stripped of their social and personal dignity and space. “Are you an upper caste woman?” This is what Maruti Narayan Mhatre, principal of Amarkar Vidyalay, Mumbai had allegedly said to Sunita Kamble, another teacher, when she resisted his advances. This has been recorded in Kamble’s FIR. She too lost her job. Her case is in the Bombay High Court.

“Who would have thought that after years one would suddenly lose one’s job one day? I am sitting at home because I have followed the law, because I have self respect and choose not to bear injustice like other women,” proclaims Kamble, former teacher at Amarkar Vidyalay, Mumbai.

Verbal attack

For 17 years, she dodged several attempts of the school authorities to expel her from office. These include forged resignations, unlawful suspension and a continual onslaught of caste abuse and sexual harassment. One day, Kamble just collapsed after she was verbally attacked for two-and-a-half hours at a stretch. Both Chimedia and Kamble belonged to private-aided schools. The principals there are also the owners. Their authority is final, they have autonomy in management, they are not accountable to the government and there is always an autocratic environment in such schools.

“The offenders are working even after being proven guilty, but I am the one who is sitting at home,” says Kamble. Instead of taking action, authorities have told the teachers to take back the cases if they want their jobs again.

The Rashtriya Mahila Ayog, in Mumbai, meant to look into crimes against women has been of no help. Chimedia has made many futile trips to meet IAS officer Vijayalakshmi Bidari Prasanna, head of the Ayog. “Every time the attendant says, ‘Madam has gone to court,’” says Chimedia. This correspondent filed an application for data on abuse cases at the Ayog. It has been pending since July.

With all paths caving in, the teachers feel they are fighting a losing battle. Financial troubles compound their woes.