The Tamil Nadu government has filed over 50 FIRs and suspended 11 school teachers from service for allegedly abusing, trolling and criticising Madras High Court Justice N Kirubakaran on social media for his remarks against teachers who went on strike in September.
On Tuesday, a 40-year-old woman from Vellore was arrested for remarks she made on Facebook against Justice Kirubakaran on the same issue.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pradeep Yadav, principal secretary, school education department, said, “Eleven teachers have been suspended as per directions from the court. They have been charged with abusing or using unparliamentary words or talking against the judiciary and the judge. All of them have now extended unconditional apologies. The judgment has been reserved.”
Official sources said the government teachers apologised before the court on Wednesday. However, sources said, action may be taken against more government employees, most of them school teachers, with over 50 FIRs having been filed on similar charges.
Officials said dozens of teachers, including heads of schools, are in the process of submitting replies to memos they received to explain their alleged remarks against the judge. “There are a few employees from other government departments, too. But most of the accused are school teachers,” said a senior police officer.
Justice Kirubakaran’s remarks followed a protest organised by government school teachers who boycotted classes along with employees’ unions demanding implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations and scrapping of the contributory pension scheme.
Stating that boycotts and strikes by teachers were a primary reason for students’ low marks in NEET exams, Justice Kirubakaran had said: “Only five government school students from the state have managed to secure medical seats. Protesting teachers should feel ashamed of this fact. They should know their responsibility. Such persons cannot be involved in strikes.”
On September 15, Justice Kirubakaran called for a report curating offensive material circulated online on his remarks, which led to FIRs being registered against the teachers.
Among those suspended is S Kavitha, an English teacher at a government school in Dharmapuri, who is part of the Joint Action Committee of Tamil Nadu Teachers Organisation and Government Employees Organisations (JACTO-GEO).
The FIR against Kavitha states that she spoke against Justice Kirubakaran in a speech at the Dharmapuri collectorate on September 7. A notice sent to her by the school education department accuses her of shirking duty to join the protests.
“On September 7, I attended a road roko protest near Nallampalli, but I was not present at the Dharmapuri collectorate. Also, I didn’t deliver a speech. We believe in the judiciary and its values. We will never abuse or attack a judge, we respect him,” Kavitha told The Indian Express.
When contacted, a senior official in the school education department said, “She was suspended because she is the district women’s wing secretary of the Tamil Nadu High and Higher Secondary Graduate Teachers’ Association (TNHHSGTA). We received information from police. I don’t know what the charges are.”
Among the others suspended in Dharmapuri are Pon Rathinam, a head master, and Thiru Kumaran, a teacher at a primary school. The others facing charges include eight teachers who received summons from a local court in Chennai to appear before it on November 30.
S Bhaktavatsalam, president of TNHHSGTA, said, “We did not resort to violence, we were protesting peacefully. We never abused or attacked the judiciary.”
Bhaktavatsalam, a Social Science teacher at a Chennai school, said he faces charges under IPC sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), 503 (criminal intimidation) and 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace). “Some were booked for WhatsApp messages, some for using social media against the judge,” he said.
The charges against Bhaktavatsalam are linked to comments made by Justice Kirubakaran in June, when he asked the state to respond on why teachers of government and aided schools should not be prohibited from starting associations or unions.
“We released a campaign notice in July against this judicial move directed at the fundamental right to organise and protest. We did not attack the judiciary, we only demanded protection of our democratic rights,” Bhaktavatsalam said.
“I was among those who appeared before Justice Kirubakaran on Wednesday to seek an unconditional apology. He said he will consider,” he said.