WITH FOUR cases of alleged molestation of girl students already being reported this month — three of them from Kolkata — schools seem to be gradually warming up to the idea of setting up guardians’ forums and separate committees to ensure the safety of children. Officials of several schools in Kolkata, who did not want to be named, claimed they are set to put in place such committees before the next academic session begins later this year.
“Times have changed… earlier, parents did not get involved in school activities but now schools cannot ignore parents. They must be informed about every change that is introduced,” said the teacher-in charge of a prominent south Kolkata school, which has set up a committee to look into sexual harassment complaints. The committee — comprising teachers, students, parents and school authorities — was set up after a four-year-old girl was allegedly molested at a school in Kolkata’s Ranikuthi area by two physical education teachers in December last year. The teachers were later arrested.
Since then, the city has seen more of such incidents. On February 9, the dance teacher of a south Kolkata school was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a student for around two months. The next day, a non-teaching employee of a city school was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a Class IX student. A teacher was arrested on February 20 for allegedly molesting with a Class II student at private school in Kolkata. This was followed by the arrest of a non-teaching staff member of a Belur school on February 21 on charges of alleged molestation of a six-year-old student.
With parents coming out in large numbers to protest such incidents, the schools have sat up and taken notice. Besides guardians’ forums and committees to look into complaints, many parents have demanded that no male teachers and employees should be appointed in schools. However, the schools have said no to this. Principal of Heritage School in Kolkata, Seema Sapru, said: “Ours is a co-ed school… but I believe even in girls’ schools, a no male employee policy cannot serve the purpose. We leave in a society where girls have to learn how to deal with such situations. We can protect them in the school by not appointing male teachers but they will encounter similar situations outside.”
“Why not set an example by standing with them so that they can face the situation in a better way? You cannot blame all men because someone did something,” she added. The Heritage School has a safety committee and a grievance cell comprising senior students, parents and school authorities.
The police, meanwhile, said schools must hold workshops and programmes on sexual harassment for school administrators, employees and students. “Schools should evaluate to determine what kind of educational environment exists for girl students… Teachers must act quickly when confronted with complaints of sexual harassment… They must strategise with students on improving classroom environment, make certain there is a welcoming environment for all… We are ready to support them in all possible ways,” said a senior Kolkata Police officer, who did not want to be named.
However, the mother of the student, who was allegedly molested by a non-teaching staff at a Belur school, said workshops and training programmes cannot help curb such incidents. “I think it is the school’s responsibility to check the background of those they are recruiting… also, they tend to ignore verbal complaints which later leads to bigger incidents,” she said.