“I WILL fight to get back my right to education and privacy. I have lost both these rights.”
Suspended from class since August for hugging another student in public and posting photos with her on his Instagram account, this Class XII student of a reputed private school in Thiruvananthapuram says he will not give up fighting for his rights. Not even after the Kerala High Court ruled in favour of the school last week.
With his family standing firmly behind him, the 16-year-old says, “Now, I will move an appeal in the division bench of the High Court.”
The girl, who was suspended along with him, and her family have opted to stay away from the spotlight, fearing that her younger sister, who is studying in Class II in the school, would be targeted. “I have been depressed… I am yet to recover from the mental trauma inflicted upon me by the school,” says the 15-year-old in Class XI.
On August 21, St Thomas Central School, run by the Mar Thoma Church Educational Society, suspended the two students for their “public display” of affection during a youth festival on campus that day. Following an appeal by the boy, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights asked the school to take back the students. The school approached the High Court, which on December 12 stayed the panel’s decision, while observing that “the issue hampers the reputation of the school”.
“The school authorities are spreading malice against me… I was allowed to write the semester exam, but kept away from other students. I was forced to sit in the library for the exam and not even allowed to board the school bus,’’ says the boy.
His father, an automobile engineer, alleges that a representative of the school management described his son as a “breeding bull”. “Why can’t my son go out with his girlfriend? The girl or her parents don’t have any complaint. What worries the management is that we questioned the punishment in the child rights panel and obtained a favourable order,’’ he says.
“The controversy should have ended after both the students tendered an apology immediately after the incident,” says the father.
Describing the incident that led to the suspension, the boy says, “After the festival, the girl, who had taken part in a recitation competition, came down the stairs, and I hugged her in a congratulatory mood for about five seconds,’’ he says.
On the photos posted on Instagram, the boy says, “Both of us used to go out with the consent of our parents. Once, we took a few photographs of us sitting together. Why should the school interfere in such personal issues? I have kept these photos private. To defend their side, the school took those photos to court. It amounts to hacking of my account and violates my right to privacy.’’
School principal Sebastian T Joseph says that “everyone has to accept” the court verdict.
“The hug was a prolonged one. No parent would like to see his or her daughter being hugged in public. The issue affects the morality and discipline of the school. Parents entrust the school with the responsibility of their children. Hence, we have to act accordingly. There was no complaint from any quarter over the incident,’’ he says.
“The boy himself attracted trouble by moving the child rights panel over the decision of the management,” says Joseph.
The Mar Thoma Church Educational Society is an arm of the Mar Thoma Church, which represents a prominent non-Catholic community in Kerala. The school doesn’t have a Parents Teachers Association. The mission statement on its official website states: “The promoters of the Society which runs the three schools and its current leadership are motivated by abiding Christian values of universal love and brotherhood, charity, respect and regard for fellow human beings and selfless sacrifice to all. We seek to inculcate these values in our students without intruding in any way into the personal beliefs or religion of our student community.”
“The school authorities insulted me… After the hug and the Instagram photos, they tried to depict me as an indecent girl. They tried to depict my family in poor light. I want to appear for the Class XI exams, at any cost. And next year, I want to study in a school where I can lead a peaceful life,’’ she says.
“It’s a pity that parents of other students are keeping silent to maintain the reputation of the school. But several alumni, who had faced such harassment in school, have come out in our support,’’ she says.
The boy, meanwhile, is facing a new challenge. The High Court had urged the school to take a “balanced view”, considering that the boy has to appear for the Class XII exam in March. But the school is not so sure. Says the principal, “If he wants to write the final exam, he has to get a clearance from the CBSE for his attendance shortfall.’’