The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Uttar Pradesh government - the education department and the UP Police in particular, and said, “The manner in which the (Muzaffarnagar) incident has happened should shock the conscience of the State.”
A video of a teacher encouraging students to slap another seven-year-old student belonging to the minority community in UP’s Muzaffarnagar went viral on August 25, causing massive outrage. The Apex Court has raised several questions about the manner in which the case has been handled by the Police as well as the education department. It added that it is a case of failure on the part of the UP government to comply with the provisions of the Right to Education Act, which deals with providing quality, free and compulsory education to children up to 14 years, without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or gender.
The Supreme Court’s observation should prick the conscience of the authorities in Goa too, which have been dragging their feet on taking punitive action against the accused, the schools and their managements, in student molestation and assault cases. In the recent past, within days cases of molestation of girl students by their teachers came to light in Ponda and Salcete talukas. A case of physical assault by a teacher in Ponda was reported about a fortnight ago.
It was shocking to say the least that the Madkai school’s principal and the management protected the molester teacher despite the incidents being first reported to them in March this year, before the summer vacation. Subsequently, even two months after the new academic year, the molester teacher was still around, which forced the victim girl and her sister to stop going to the school.
In the Fatorpa case, the molester physical education teacher was grooming eight students and all his actions went unnoticed. Or, were they ignored? In the physical assault case, even before a formal complaint could be registered there were alleged attempts to hush up the case and bring a compromise between the victim’s family and the teacher.
In all these cases, what action has the Education Department and the police taken against the principal and the management? The Education Department and the top brass of the Goa Police should take the observations of the Supreme Court in the Muzaffarnagar case seriously and introspect if the same wrong doings have been done in these cases in Goa? It’s not too late to take appropriate action as per law.
The State has a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for students and, in particular to girls. The Education Department should ensure that these girls and boys are not deprived of their fundamental right to Education.
Molestation, sexual abuse or even physical assaults all leave a lifelong effect on the victim and the scars of the wrongdoings never heal. The least that the government can do is create atleast one full time permanent position of a counsellor in every school - dedicated to only one school to which he or she is appointed.
Teacher recruitment needs to include behavioural certification from institutions of their training. In addition, just like refresher courses are held for academic purposes, annual refresher courses and certification of the teachers’ behaviour with their students should be made mandatory. Training for classroom behaviour, especially dealing with adolescence, should become a part of the teacher training courses.
Last and most importantly, as revealed by experts, the reported cases of sexual or physical assault are just a tip of the iceberg. Most of the cases go unreported due to various reasons, and one amongst them is the failure of the adolescents to recognise that they are being molested. It’s only years later when life begins to hold them back that the scars are revealed. Therefore, student training on behavioural patterns towards them, the concept of good touch-bad touch, the possible exploitation through social media, and developing courage to report the incident the first time it occurs, has become the need of the hour. To meet the challenges of the 21st century when the digital world has taken over the physical world, a comprehensive academic training to deal with the problems should become a part of the education system.