A special court in Madurai has sentenced a headmaster to 55 years’ rigorous imprisonment after finding him guilty of sexually abusing 20 girls in his school for over three years. The case, in which the sentence was awarded on Tuesday, allowed a peek into several factors that delayed investigation into the serial crimes of headmaster S Arockiasamy.
The first complaint in 2011 was from a mother whose daughter in Class VII was abused by Arockiasamy. Investigations later showed that the headmaster had been sexually abusing schoolgirls for at least three years before that. The investigation revealed that several teachers who knew about the abuse did not act when girls and their parents sought help.
Five of the 20 victims are from Scheduled Caste families. Several girls, according to an officer who investigated the case, were first-generation learners and their parents were labourers. The Madurai village where the school is located has around 3,000 families, mostly Dalits.
During the investigation it came to light that an all-woman police station near Madurai tried to tamper with the evidence. In the six intervening years, 10 of the victims turned hostile.
Arockiasamy, who was suspended from the school in 2012, will serve consecutive five-year terms each for the sexual abuse of the five SC girls, totalling 25 years. This is under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. He will also serve two years each consecutively for abusing the other 15 girls, adding up to 30 years. Concurrently, he will serve 10 years for criminal intimidation.
The petition said the headmaster used to touch the victims’ private parts and take nude pictures. When some of them protested, he threatened to fail them in exams. The petition said he also subjected the victims to corporal punishment.
The complainant said her daughter was afraid to go to school, was talking in her sleep and refusing to eat. She also made references to teachers who were aware of the harassment, but did not help.
After this woman’s complaint, at least one other parent and members of the All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) approached the police.
Disha Mittal, who was an assistant superintendent of police when she was given to investigate the case, said: “Fear, social stigma, forced them (the victims) to turn hostile…. Several victims got married during the trial stage, another reason that made them turn hostile.”
Mittal, the third investigation officer who was appointed by Madras High Court, said: “The main challenge was of handling the highly traumatised victims.”
Mittal thanked U Nirmala Rani, the lawyer who fought the case from the beginning. “Unfortunately, that mother of the victim who filed the first complaint is no more to see her daughter and others getting justice,” the IPS officer from Chandigarh said.