Tamil Nadu

When teachers remained silent spectators

The complaint box in a government school in Krishnagiri.- Photo: N. Bashkaran  

When a drunk headmaster went about smashing liquor bottles on the school premises in the district, it took a village local to inform the district administration about it on its toll-free number 1077. The school has eight teachers, taking classes for 196 students spread across Classes I to VIII. Yet, no teacher reported the headmaster to the district education authorities.

Gunasekaran, the 42-year-old headmaster of Aatukaarampatty Panchayat Union Middle School, was placed under suspension after an inquiry by the Assistant Education Officer. The inquiry revealed he was always drunk while on duty and would often ask students to discard the liquor bottles. Yet, the teachers had not reported this to the officials. And, that had helped him go on.

Last June, a government school headmaster was suspended for sexually harassing girl students for years. The incident came to light after a former student reported his sexually predatory behaviour on the Child Line’s whatsapp number. An inquiry by Child Line revealed that in this case also, the teachers, though most of them women, had never reported the matter to officials.

The discomforting question is: why do teachers remain silent, or even spectators to such acts?

While service and conduct rules put the onus of safety and security of the students on the teachers, they largely remain silent on sexual or other forms of offences by persons of authority in schools. It is left to be seen what action will be initiated against the teachers, for not playing their part, as per rules.

Chief Education Officer Maheshwari, says teachers are encouraged to complain to the CEO/DEO/AEO, wherever possible. “Almost all teachers have phone numbers of the department officials, yet they remain silent spectators in incidents such as this.” Teachers can complain on the administration’s toll free number 1077 or Child line helpline 1098, without revealing their identity.

After a rise in complaints of sexual abuse, the Education Department mandated putting up complaint boxes in schools for children. However, gradually, the complaint boxes turned ‘suggestion’ boxes. And, these were invariably kept in a highly noticeable spot, running counter to the very intention of the exercise -- protecting the identity of the students.

“The headmaster has the key to the box, and the box is opened at will without supervision. Ideally, it should be opened in the presence of the local Assistant Education Officer, or other officials,” says Shine Thomas, Director, ChildLine, Dharmapuri.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 9:49:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/When-teachers-remained-silent-spectators/article16436981.ece

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