“Parents protect yourself & your children from Gays-Homos-Lesbians”.
“Do Not Corrupt others Minds By Wearing Provocative & Revealing Dresses”.
“Sexy Dresses Invites eve-teasing”.
These were some of the sexist and homophobic messages on placards that class XI students of an all-girls government school in Chennai were allegedly forced to hold and parade on streets.
After the incident sparked widespread outrage, school authorities admitted that the students were made to hold the placards, but claimed they were unaware of the offensive messages on them. School secretary V Susheela said a few students and teachers went to take part in a road awareness program organised by State Bank Retired and Serving Employees Forum (SBRSEF) on August 30 where they were made to hold placards.
“I was shocked after seeing the reports that children were made to hold such offensive posters. After the prayer got over at 9:30 on Friday, I returned to my office and teachers went back to their classes. A section of higher secondary students along with six to seven teachers had gone to this awareness campaign.
“We have teachers who know both English and Tamil, but unfortunately on that day only the Tamil teachers and Tamil-medium students participated in that drive, they couldn’t even read what’s been written on the placards,” she told indianexpress.com.
Susheela alleged that the secretary of SBRSEF, R MohanaKrishnan, was responsible for the offensive messages.
She said that Mohanakrishnan had only sought permission from the school to conduct a road-safety awareness drive, much like one he had organised last year.
“We are a government-aided school. Several NGOs and volunteers approach us to do welfare activities for these underprivileged children. Some teach in this school part-time, some provide books and other necessary items for the kids, musicians like TM Krishna offers to teach kids instruments without any charge, all of them want to contribute some way or the other for these kids,” Susheela said.
The school was founded by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a champion of women’s rights, for underprivileged children.
“Similarly, Mohanakrishnan approached us and introduced himself as the secretary of a non-profitable voluntary service-oriented organization. He conducted an awareness drive a year ago and that was based on topics like road safety and traffic, child abuse and cultural degradation. So we thought even this year he would conduct something similar to that. But what happened was unfortunate, the mistake is on our side as well. At least one of our teachers could have seen the placards, we are disappointed,” she said.
‘I’m just warning children’
A retired State Bank of India officer and secretary of SBRSEF, 67-year-old Mohanakrishnan said he was simply educating the public.
“Majority of people, including higher police officials, said nothing was offending on those placards, we know how many children are being ruined,” he said.
When told that the content on the placards was homophobic, Mohanakrishnan defended it by claiming that he had been affected by a section of the LGBT community.
“I have been a victim of sexual harassment. The incidents which happened in my young age can never be forgotten. I am not blaming all of them, but at the same time a certain section of that community is trying to exploit people, I’m just warning children about their unwanted advances,” he said.
When asked why school children, who don’t understand the sexist remarks were made to hold the placards, Mohanakrishnan said it was for their own good.
“In the recent past, several girls below 18 years were raped or murdered. We have to educate the children about our culture and tradition. Everyone knows it’s wrong, but people are just ignoring it. Similar to road safety and other awareness drives, this also should reach the public,” he said.
Andrew Sesuraj, a human rights activist, said the school management should be held responsible for the incident.
“First the school is at fault. It’s about a girl’s safety; the correspondent should have known what kind of program is going to happen on their premises. This stereotyped information sets a very bad example. It’s not about the dress, we have been saying this for so many times,” Susraj said.
“The teachers should have seen the placards, even if they are Tamil medium teachers they will be able to read two or three lines, It’s pure negligence. I feel the education department should take severe action against this awareness drive,” he said.