I wanted the first article of the year to be one of hope. But seeing the pain of Ruchika Girhotra’s family and the complicity of the Sacred Heart School that expelled her a month after she was molested by then director general of Haryana police S.P.S. Rathore, hope turned to anger. The Chandigarh administration’s magisterial inquiry into the role of the school management in the expulsion of Ruchika Girhotra in September 1990 is a necessary first step to deal with such shameful treatment of an innocent girl. Ruchika committed suicide three years after her expulsion.
The case is unusual in that when policemen do try to influence schools, it is normally to gain an admission, not an expulsion. Harassment is endemic.
Almost all top school and college principals are subject to harassment from every level of various government departments including the police as well as some unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats. From station house officers to the most senior officers, from middle-ranking administrative officers to junior engineers, indeed from anyone who thinks they can force the school to admit their chosen one.
Also Read Abha Adams’ earlier columns
In pursuit of admissions, spurious first information reports (FIRs) are lodged against principals, water and electric supply is cut, school recognition is not forthcoming, school inspections begin to take on all the characteristics of a witch-hunt, and individuals’ tax records are pored over for the slightest anomaly.
My husband takes great delight in telling everyone the number of FIRs I have had lodged against me. Not least the one from the superintendent of police whose nephew had not been successful in clearing his admission test to a senior class. He decided that because an external music teacher allowed the children to sing an Abba song, at an extra Saturday morning music session, I was attempting to convert the children from Hinduism to Christianity. The foolish man had assumed that, because I married a man with a Christian name, I was a Christian. Luckily for me a complaint by the school to his superiors, and prompt action by them, made the FIR disappear. But not before there was a non-bailable warrant out for my arrest, and the police and the directorate of education had grilled me several times over.
Harassment by very senior officers is not easy to deal with. If some schools cannot find someone with more political or administrative seniority, then they often capitulate, but the better and more powerful schools do not. Sometimes schools bring senior police officers and bureaucrats onto their board in the hope that they will be able to avert the anticipated harassment.
The problem, as always, is exacerbated by the lack of accountability. The systems are often in place but are often ignored when powerful people are involved. It is not and should not be easy for a school to expel anyone and yet in Girhotra’s case there was no investigation by the education department into her expulsion.
The inquiry into the school’s culpability in Girhotra’s case should not be restricted to the school principal and the members of the board of governors who made the decision to expel her. They would not have acted in isolation. The role of the department of education officials, who have a duty to stop schools arbitrarily expelling pupils, also needs to be looked at. But that is not all that needs to be done.
This case is primarily about the police and their ability to molest, humiliate, abuse and torture. It also illustrates just how much pressure they can exert on schools that suffer from poor leadership. Obviously, those that colluded with the harassment of this poor child and her family need to be exposed and punished. Those officials who turned a blind eye should be brought to book, but we need to do far more than that.
We need transparent, accountable, professional procedures within the police force and many other areas of governance which controls and restricts the access and interactions and relationships with schools, colleges and other institutions.
Most of all, we need enforced comprehensive procedural rules regarding all approaches by all government officials and politicians to schools. We also need to get rid of those in education who are not prepared to show compassion and justice to a sexually abused child.
Hope for 2010.
Abha Adams is an education consultant. She writes a monthly column on training and education as they relate to careers and the workplace.
Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org