Principal of an Army Public School, Jaipur, alleged to be perpetrator; Antony to institute probe

Up against a formidable line-up of Army officials who were members of an inquiry panel that ended up taking away her job, a victim of alleged sexual harassment by the principal of an Army Public School in Jaipur came knocking on Defence Minister A.K. Antony's door here on Tuesday seeking justice. She was accompanied by Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and Right to Food activist Kavita Srivastava who presented a memorandum to the Minister.

“Mr. Antony took a serious view of the matter. He said he would institute an inquiry into it,” Ms. Karat told The Hindu.

Raising the larger issue of the Army not recognising Vishaka guidelines set by the Supreme Court on sexual harassment at the workplace, Ms. Karat said: “This girl had no place to go for six months. Why are the Army representatives on the management committee shielding this principal?”

OUTRAGE

Mangala Bhatt's eyes brimmed with tears as she recalled the outrage she felt when her tormentor, principal Rajiv Kumar Singh, touched her inappropriately and pushed her in full view of a maid, peon and others. And this was not the only time. This 30-year-old mother of a five-year-old alleged that she had been at the receiving end, over several months, of Dr. Singh's lewd comments and open invitation to meet him outside the school if she wanted to be made permanent in her contractual job.

Ms. Bhatt was accompanied by her husband Pawan, also a school teacher, her brother and Meena Devi, the office help attached to the principal's office, who too lost her job for standing witness against the principal.

“I myself, as also peons and safai karamcharis, saw the manner in which the principal pushed Madam Mangala. In fact, on several occasions he touched my fingers as I handed him a glass of water. The first time I thought it was a mistake. The second time again I thought it was a mistake, but it made me conscious of a pattern. But I could not tell anyone. We are poor people and have four children to bring up and need the job,” Ms. Meena Devi told The Hindu.

EXEMPLARY COURAGE

Yet Ms. Bhatt and Ms. Meena have shown exemplary courage in fighting it out. Both women, in different ways, went through a horrendous time on the inquiry committees that were set up, more to break their spirit, than to provide them any relief. Far from following Vishaka guidelines that call for such a panel to be headed by a woman with majority members as women, these male-dominated committees made it worse for the victims with their lewd manner of cross-examination.

Ms. Bhatt was being consistently “advised” to withdraw her complaint or lose her job, while Ms. Meena Devi was being induced to accept a bribe or turn hostile. “Madam used to come to the tea room and cry and cry at the manner in which she was being questioned. Her eyes used to be swollen and red.”

Both women were made to sign papers. Ms. Meena Devi said she was made to sign on blank papers, while Ms. Bhatt, who was also taunted on the inquiry panels for not being well-versed with English, was made to sign on papers with English text.

Finally, after the case became public, the services of Ms. Bhatt, an arts teacher, who was promoted TGT Arts and Craft before Dr. Singh became principal, were “terminated.” Ms. Meena Devi, who was on contract was made a daily wager and sacked. Some others who spoke up are apprehensive of similar action.

Activist Srivastava said a teacher had deposed before the second inquiry panel that she was present when the incident occurred and yet another spoke up about sexual harassment.

“In these inquiries, Ms. Bhatt was made to sit till late evenings and asked the same questions again and again. Ultimately she left the inquiry and complained to the police on April 5 which lodged an FIR against the principal for sexual harassment. Following this, her services were terminated. She later approached women's groups. The State Women's Commission also held that the Army School was not implementing Supreme Court guidelines relating to Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace.”

CHARGESHEETED

On November 11, 2011, the principal filed a writ petition in the High Court to get the FIR quashed but it was dismissed. Finally, on November 15, 2011, Dr. Singh was chargesheeted.

When contacted by The Hindu, a top management functionary of the school who did not want to be named said: “It was all building up. What happened was that the principal had questioned her on not attending an evening school function, which resulted in both shouting at each another. It is not correct that the principal pushed her... There are some disgruntled elements who have become witnesses. This has been blown out of proportion.”

Asked why no action had been taken against the principal who has been charge-sheeted, he said: “Inquiry panels have found him innocent.''

He claimed Ms. Bhatt had been sacked for “inefficiency and indiscipline.” Asked why she was promoted from an Arts teacher to TGT if she was inefficient, he fumbled: “Sometimes she was efficient, then she was promoted… if she is not efficient, reasons are there…''

JUSTICE FOR ALL

But Ms. Bhatt wants justice also for all teachers, helpers and peons whose services have been terminated. “With such a principal at the helm of affairs what will be the future of children? Other women should come up and speak out. I could, because of the support of my husband.”

Courtesy:
http://www.thehindu.com/