Stories of sexual exploitation of schoolgirls by teachers rattle Haryana.
T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in Ambala, Jind, Rohtak and Sirsa
A horrific story was only beginning to unfold in Haryana when seven cases of sexual exploitation of schoolgirls by their teachers were reported from Durjanpur village in Ucchana block of Jind district in early February. The jolt from Jind was followed, between February 6 and 19, by more such reports from various parts of the State. In Sirsa, a 13-year-old physically challenged girl was allegedly raped over several months by her Sanskrit teacher. In Ambala, a Dalit student of Class VIII was offered a scooter ride by her teacher who took her to a sugarcane field and allegedly raped her. The owner of the field who happened to pass by pretended to intervene but eventually criminally assaulted the terrified child. In Jhajjar and Bhiwani districts, schoolgirls in two private schools complained of sexual harassment. In Meham, two 10-year-old Dalit girls complained to their parents of unbecoming behaviour by their teacher.
That more cases came to light is not surprising. The families of the victims were evidently emboldened by the immediate response of the administration in the case of Durjanpur, where the services of the accused teachers were terminated following two reports of confirmed teenage pregnancies.
In Durjanpur, however, the only case the police registered was that of the sexual exploitation and subsequent pregnancy of a girl from the Gosain caste, a backward community. Influential members of the village suppressed the remaining six cases. The village panchayat representatives, including members from the Jat community, initially complained to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Narwana, Mohammad Shayin, that seven girls - four belonging to the Jat community, one Gosain and two Pandit - were sexually exploited by two teachers and that two girls had become pregnant. But when the SDM asked for the names, none was given. The excuse was that the reputation of the village would be sullied and nobody would come forward to marry the girls. But the panchayat pushed the Gosain girl's case and said it would pay for all costs, medical as well as legal, to fight her case.
When Frontline visited the village, the reception was hostile. None of the village elders was willing to give the whereabouts of the Gosain girl's father. None of the women from the Jat community would say a word. The girl, it was learnt, had been "sent away" to Hisar with some relatives. The only comment an old Dalit woman made was that nobody would now send their girls to the Government High School at Durjanpur. She said she had noticed for many years that as soon as a girl completed Class VIII, the parents pulled her out of the school. "Things are not good out here," she said.
It was also learnt that in the initial phase of the inquiry, one of the women teachers of Durjanpur had revealed that such incidents had been happening for several years. When probed further, she confided that she had studied in the same school.
Meanwhile, the SDM, apart from ordering the termination of services of the accused teachers, changed the entire staff of the school. It is learnt that the local administration was under tremendous pressure "not to stretch" the case any further.
Durjanpur is in Ucchana Assembly constituency represented by State Finance Minister Birender Singh. Political pressures apart, there is the caste factor too. Both the accused teachers are Jats, and the caste panchayat, went on to allege that the teachers had been framed. It was also reliably learnt that the accused had paid the girl's father a substantial amount of money. When the families of the other victims learnt about the monetary exchange, they reported their own cases to the administration. But when the accused expressed their inability to pay for all the victims, the villagers decided to withdraw their statements and refused to reveal the identity of the six girls but insisted that the Gosain family go ahead with its case.
There was not an iota of sympathy for the girls, nor was the village genuinely interested in the notion of justice. There was a sense of relief at all levels: the administration was relieved that the matter had been settled after the teachers were dismissed; the police were relieved that the matter was now in the courts; and the panchayat leaders happy that the names of victims who were the daughters of local leaders were not revealed.
The State unit of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have demanded that the State government provide for the proper rehabilitation of all the victims so that they could pursue their studies. AIDWA has demanded the setting up of committees for the prevention of sexual harassment in schools and in all the public institutions. Jagmati Sangwan, president of AIDWA's State unit, said that given that the government had initiated several schemes for the empowerment of women, the least it could do was to deposit Rs.1 lakh in the name of each of the victims so that she could continue her studies.
Balbir Kaur, joint secretary of AIDWA, told Frontline that Sushma (name changed), the physically challenged girl from Saadewala village in Sirsa district, had been raped at least four times in the past one year by her teacher. Each time he threatened to fail her. The girl had secured second position in the State in the shot put event at the "special games" organised in Faridabad last December. Sushma's family lived on the outskirts of the village in what is called a "dhaani" or hamlet. Most children from her school went home during the lunch recess but as Sushma's residence was not nearby, she often stayed back. It was during one of the recess periods that she was raped for the first time.
Sushma became pregnant and the teacher gave her a "pill", ostensibly to abort the foetus. Later, when she became ill, she told her parents what had happened. The pregnancy was confirmed and her father decided to report the matter. The teacher was suspended. After the local AIDWA unit intervened, the administration consented to give Rs.5,000 in lieu of the medical expenses. Sushma's mother is still in a state of shock. The father does all the talking. He said he would educate his daughter and not let the incident affect her future.
Komal and Mukesh of Mato Bhaini village in Meham in Rohtak district faced sexual harassment in their school. Her teacher, Komal alleged, would grope her and ask her not to report it to her parents. Otherwise he said, he would fail her in the examinations. The girls reported the matter to their parents. The sarpanch, a Dalit, took up the matter initially but later succumbed to pressure as the teacher hailed from the same village as the Meham MLA. The parents reported the matter to the police against the wishes of the panchayat. Women's organisations such as AIDWA stood behind the families and even persuaded the Deputy Commissioner of Rohtak to honour the girls on International Women's Day for taking a bold stand against the influential members of the village. It was with the persistent efforts of AIDWA and the Haryana Rajkiya Adhyapak Sangh, the largest teachers organisation in the State, that a case was registered.
Ironically, the Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda has dedicated the year 2006 to the girl child. A number of schemes for the empowerment of women and for the advancement of the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes have been announced. While these are welcome measures, there has to be some acknowledgement that crimes against the weaker sections have gone up especially in those areas that are closer to the national capital. A world of unlimited aspirations has been created and further fostered by a market spawned by the Green Revolution. A lot of old ties have broken down, and, as Inderjit Singh, CPI(M) State secretary, says, "a bizarre situation has been created".