Sometime between Deepawali and Chhat, news trickled in from the vernacular press that a four year old girl had been abused by two women teachers at the prestigious St. Xavier’s School in Patna,the capital of Bihar.
At first glance, one was not amused.Having been associated with the campaign against child abuse in Bihar since 1997, particularly Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), one is aware that perpetrators of various forms of abuse can be both women and men.
The newspapers, hungry for sensation in the silly season that follows major holidays, played up the stories. Briefly, the story put forward is this: two lady teachers of the lower kindergarten section in St Xavier’s School took a four year old girl into a room, disrobed her, and while one teacher allegedly abused her, the other one looked on. The mother of the child, a non-practicing lawyer, had filed a case under POSCO, naming the two teachers, who are in jail, since offences under this act are non-bailable.
According to the FIR filed by the mother on the 3rd of November, one female faculty member, ‘Chhoti Ma’am’ under the ‘pretense of assisting the child to go to the bathroom, would take her to a room behind the classroom after class was over’ and ‘repeatedly insert her finger inside the child’s vagina’ and on the 27th of October, during this abuse, a hard object was inserted inside the child’s vagina resulting in the rupture of the hymen.
The complainant states that she observed that her daughter, on her return from school on that day had difficulty sitting and appeared to be in pain, ‘I grew suspicious and when I asked my daughter, she cried and slowly revealed the painful experience of abuse.’
The complainant further states that she took the girl for a medical examination where it was found that the child’s private parts had been tampered with. For confirmation the child was referred to a specialist who confirmed this. The complainant says that she took the matter to the Princpal of St Xavier’s who was uncooperative.
But what’s the other side of the story? The one, that for some reason, has not been trumpeted by the press?
On the second of November, at about 11:40 am, the Principal,Rev Jacob OA SJ, who had just returned to the school after the Diwali holidays, was met by a man claiming to be the uncle (Mamaji) of one of the girl students. He reported that his niece had been sexually harassed by one of her teachers. The principal asked him where are the parents of the girl were. Shouldn’t they be the ones to come and complain? The man said that the mother of the child wanted to come, but since the principal had been away, she had sent him to find out.
Rev Jacob, in his statement to the police has said, ‘taking the matter with due concern, requested that the mother of the girl be asked to meet me at 4 o’clock the same evening.
‘At about 4pm, the mother of the girl along with her daughter came to see me with a complaint that the faculty – two lady teachers – had been inflicting sexual harassment on her daughter She also produced copies of the medical reports. On seeing the seriousness of the matter, I told her that we have a school grievance cell with a senior lady teacher as its chairperson.’
The principal requested the mother and her daughter to come the next day (November 3) at 10 am, so that the School Grievance Cell, which has a senior lady teacher as the chairperson, could hear from her daughter and ascertain the facts of the case. They agreed and left, but did not turn up. When contacted on phone, she said that they would not come for the inquiry. Instead she went to the police station and filed an FIR alleging non-cooperation from the school!
On the 3rd of November, more than a week after the alleged incident, the mother filed a case under POSCO with the police.
The school authorities have given a detailed explanation to the police as to why the teachers accused could not have been alone with the girl at the alleged time of the incident. It’s sufficient to mention here that the child promptly left by bus every afternoon accompanied by other children, so there was no way she could be kept after classes. It is believed that there is CCTV footage to that effect.
Some questions that need to be asked
The members of the Child Welfare Committee and others should remember that the most important issue is the best interests of the child.
Evidence, as far as the first medical report (on October 31) is that there is evidence of penetration. The preliminary examination, done by a private physician says there is ‘history of handling 4 days back’. The observation is that the vagina was ‘lax and red’ with indication being ‘pain in the vagina’. The second report (November 1) says ‘hymen torn and red’.
Now if your little girl complained of excruciating pain, and couldn’t sit or walk properly, would you not get her to the doctor immediately, especially if you ‘suspected’ something? Would you wait for three whole days before going to a doctor?
If you had written a letter on November 2 to the principal urging thus ‘ as per your instruction, I hereby submit this petition for quick and drastic action against the faculty,’ why don’t you turn up on November 3 to depose before the School Grievance Cell so that the procedure can be completed?
And now a third question, but first read the original end of the FIR:
‘ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि इस तरह का कुकर्म पूर्व में भी अबोध बालिकाओं के साथ किए जाते रहे होंगे एवं वहाँ के अविवाहित कर्मियों के सुख के लिए तैयारी कराई जाती होगी या उम्र बढ्ने पर उन्हे और भी कहीं भेजने के धंधा भी चलाया जाता होगा।‘
Why does this obviously malicious allegation feature in the FIR? “It seems that this sort of crime against innocent girl children have been happeningand they are being prepared for the pleasure of the unmarried staff, and they may be trafficked.” Is it not a deliberate attempt to cast a slur on the integrity of the school and the Jesuit community?
Why aren’t the police doing proper detective work and looking at all angles of the case? All of us who have been trained to recognize signs of CSA know that (unfortunately) the most common site of such abuse is the home, and the neighbourhood.
The injury prima facie seems to point to sexual assault of a high degree committed most likely by a male member, who has to be identified, and the police will have to do a thorough investigation into the matter.
Can we be sure that the little girl is not being coerced into saying things?
Fr Jacob humbly submits that the complaint in the present form against the lady teachers of the school has been made for wholly extraneous reasons to divert the attention of the investigating agency from the actual culprit(s) and to defame the good name of the school and the faculty members.
If the police want to investigate thoroughly and the press wants to be fair, then call for an independent hearing for the child, in front of a judicial magistrate and in the presence of an impartial qualified psychological counsellor to be conducted without the presence of any of the parties, or their lawyers and that means no family members to influence the child.
The parents of the child, I am told, are well connected with the local police and are said to have political connections as well.
I am sure that if the mother of the child is really seeking justice, she would want to find out beyond reasonable doubt as to who molested the child, and she should have no objections to this standard and impartial procedure.
(Frank Krishner is a well known child rights and human rights activist, journalist, and social commentator)