The Kerala High Court has upheld a Thiruvananthapuram school’s decision to suspend two Class XII students — a boy and a girl — on charges of public display of affection by hugging during a school festival. The bench of Justice Shaji P Chaly quashed the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ order asking St Thomas Central School, a CBSE school in the state capital, to take back the two suspended students. The school management, Mar Thoma Church, had moved the court against the child rights panel.
In its verdict on December 12, the court said the child rights panel has the power to only recommend to the government for grant of such relief to the victim. It observed that a school principal is the institution’s guardian, vested with powers to take action necessary to maintain discipline and morality in the school. The child rights commission cannot interfere there, the court said.
According to the school management, the boy hugged the girl in front of other students during an arts festival held in the school on August 21 this year —- the boy said it was a congratulatory hug after her impressive singing at the festival. Both apologised to the vice-principal for this public display of affection.
A few days later, some of their photos appeared on Instagram. The photos were posted purportedly from the boy’s account and were seen by other students, the school maintains. As part of disciplinary action, both were placed under suspension but were allowed to attend the semester examination held in September.
The boy subsequently petitioned the child rights commission, which asked the school principal to admit the boy. The commission invoked the power under relevant sections of CrPC, which was challenged in court by the school.
In court, the boy argued that it was a congratulatory hug. He contended that the school authorities were not permitted to access his Instagram account, and were thus guilty of hacking into his account and using it to blackmail him and tarnish his image in school.
In his order, Justice Chaly observed, “I find that various photographs were posted on Instagram in various compromising positions, and if it had the effect of publicity, the issue hampers the reputation of the school.” The court also said that the school management’s action was not illegal or unfair since it was taken in order to maintain the institution’s reputation.