When it comes to disciplining students, authorities at Kamala Girls’ School in south Kolkata clearly seem to have a skewed perspective. On March 8, ten students of the school were made to sign a “confession” letter that they were lesbians. The parents of the girls, however, did not take it lying down and stormed into the room of the acting headmistress on Monday and got into a heated argument with her. The parents blamed the school for arm-twisting the girls into signing the written admission. The school said the move was aimed at bringing the students on “the right course”.
A school official, on the condition of anonymity, said: “It was a simple act of disciplining the students. They were being naughty in class so they were called into the office of the headmistress and were made to sign a confession. The parents were called to sort out the matter and have a discussion but they overreacted saying their girls were forced to sign it. They probably thought this was similar to the sexual assault case that happened in February and that we were at fault. We have given back the signed letters to the parents.”
The acting headmistress Sikha Sarkar, however, claimed that a few students had complained about the ten students indulging in “such behaviour”. “We called those students and they admitted it. Considering the sensitive nature of the issue, I asked them to admit it in writing. I have got written admissions from all 10 students,” IANS quoted the acting headmistress as saying. The acting headmistress further told the news agency, “Today we called the guardians to apprise them of the issue. Our aim was to discuss the matter with them so that we can bring these girls on the right course through efforts both at home and in school.”
Malobika, co-founder, Kolkata-based NGO Sappho for Equality – The Activist Forum For Lesbian, Bisexual Woman and Transman Rights – wonders why the authorities had to shame the girls and force them to sign a confession. “What happened with those girls is abhorrent. Not only were they singled out on the basis of a few complaints, which could very well have been pranks, I don’t understand what purpose did the whole exercise serve? Are students in co-ed schools asked to write a confession about their heterosexuality when they are seen spending time together?”
Sappho for Equality plans to investigate what made the school authorities decide to go forward with their line of action. The incident brings to question whether the school’s naming and shaming of the students reek of a homophobic attitude prevalent in schools.
Sayantani Roy, a former student of Kamala Girls’ School who passed out in 2006, says the school has traditionally frowned upon “intense friendships between girls”. “It’s not just this school. The whole atmosphere in traditional girls school is very oppressive. I remember we had a teacher who would take it upon herself to scold us if we displayed even a tiny bit of affection to our classmates. The term “lesbian” was flung around like it’s a swear word,” says Roy who works for a start-up in Bangkok now.
Soumali Chakraborty, another former student of the school who passed out in 2007, says a lot of students choose to not confide in their teachers about their “confusions”. “They fear discrimination. I had a classmate who wrote me love letters. I didn’t know how to react to it but even then I knew if I told my teachers about this, the girl would be penalised for it. I remained friends with her,” says Soumali, an employee of an IT firm in Bengaluru.