Protests have been escalating across Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu as people from all walks of life including politicians have been strengthening the voices to demand justice for a 17-year-old girl student in the Coimbatore district, who had committed suicide on Thursday by alleging that she was sexually harassed by a male teacher.
The incident had sparked outrage and several unions, activists, and the peers of the girl have held demonstrations in various parts of Coimbatore for the past two days. The girl was in Class 12 and studying in Chinmaya Vidyalaya School in RS Puram, Coimbatore and she had faced sexual harassment from Mithun Chakravarthy, who was teaching Physics in the same school. As the protests grow, the police had filed a case against the teacher under the POCSO Act and he was apprehended on Friday and lodged in the sub-jail in Udumalpet.
How did the new normal haunt the girl? Here's the tragic story
Magudeeswaran is a native of Ukkadam in the Coimbatore district and works in a bakery. He has two daughters of whom the 17-year-old Pontharani was the eldest. She was studying in the Chinmaya Vidyalaya in RS Puram. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the students in the state were confined in their residences and settling up for a new normal of studying online. However, this new normal had become a nightmare for Pontharani after her physics teacher Mithun Chakravarthy had begun exposing his awful character.
Pontharani's parents had bought her a new smartphone for her online classes and it has been reported that Mithun Chakravarthy was habitual of speaking to her over the phone even after the class was over. At one point, his conduct toward the girl has completely changed and begun speaking to her about her physical appearance. After getting shocked over his conversation, Pontharani had lamented with her fellow students over the conduct of the teacher.
As the schools in Tamil Nadu have been fully reopened, the physical classes had resumed and Pontharani had come back to school and it has been reported that Mithun Chakravarthy went on to harass her at the school. She then had approached the school principal Meera Jackson and complained against the teacher for the latter's awful conduct. However, in a fashion of coercing her, the principal has asked the girl not to inform the matter to her family and asked her to tolerate it as if someone had misbehaved on the bus. The absence of swift action had patted Mithun Chakravarthy to continue his atrocity and harassment.
As the last resort, Pontharani had asked her parents to change the school without revealing that she was getting harassed. She was then got admitted to the government school in the region. Though she changed the school, Mithun Chakravarthy had followed her on her mobile and sent illicit chats and messages. Some of her friends had said she was dropped by Chakravarthy once while studying in Chinmaya Vidyalaya. However, though she wanted to get rid of Chakravarthy, he had harassed her repeatedly.
The girl's close circle had alleged that she was living under mental stress for a long time and she had finally ended her life on Thursday by committing suicide. In her suicide note, which was retrieved by the police, she had blamed three persons including Mithun Chakravarthy for her death. She had facing harassment for over six months and addressing the media, the girl's mother has said that the school had also arranged for counselling during which the school management had asked the girl not to take the harassment seriously.
A friend of the deceased girl has said that Chakravarthy had sexually harassed her multiple times and his wife, who works in the same school and the principal were aware of such harassment. However, no action was taken. At one time, the school management had promised the girl that Chakravarthy would be dismissed from the school. However, he wasn't dismissed. After the news of her suicide hit headlines, it had drawn major attention across and beyond the state.
Protests and the police case:
The hashtag #JusticeforPontharani has been trending on social media since Saturday while the protests have been rampant since Friday. All India Democratic Association, Students' Federation of India, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, and Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam had held protests on Friday outside the Coimbatore Collectorate demanding action against the teacher and the school. The protesters had urged to arrest the accused teacher under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and demanded stern action against the school.
Amid the protests, All Women's Police Station in RS Puram, Coimbatore, which probes the case, has on Friday registered a case against the teacher under IPC section 306 - abetment of suicide and section 9(L) - whoever commits sexual assault on the child more than once or repeatedly of the POCSO Act. Following registering the case, the police had arrested Mithun Chakravarthy on Friday night for further investigations. The police had taken him to the government hospital in Coimbatore for the health checkup as per the protocol and he was produced before a judge. He was then lodged in the sub-jail in Udumalpet under judicial custody.
On Saturday, the fellow students of the school had held protests in Coimbatore, seeking justice for their friend. The students had held protests by wearing black shirts and had carried placards that read "We will not be silenced. Not this time" and "Justice for Pontharani". Several unions had also moved a petition to the Coimbatore district Collector in which they demanded to arrest all the suspects including the higher officials of the school who were aware of such harassment, yet failed to take action.
The unions had also urged to conduct an inquiry in the school on whether any other student had faced such sexual harassment and the district administration should roll out an awareness drive on sexual studies to every school and college in Coimbatore. As the incident progresses for further probe, protests escalate across the state and the website of the school has been blocked, while the premises were brought under the surveillance of the police department.
The protesters had refused to take the body of the girl until everyone involved in the matter is brought before justice. As the protests grow, the Coimbatore police have on Saturday booked a case against the school principal, Meera Jackson, under the POCSO Act in line with Mithun Chakravarthy. Amid the protests, several politicians in Tamil Nadu have sharply reacted to the incident. DMK MP Kanimozhi took to Twitter and wrote, "The incident where the schoolgirl of Coimbatore committed suicide due to sexual harassment from a teacher is frightening. An action must be taken on the school management for failing to take action on such harassment despite the girl being informed about it several times."
"The crime can be stopped at the right time when the voices of students are heard", she added. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan said, "The incident where a school student committed suicide due to sexual harassment in Coimbatore is shocking. Those responsible for her death must be punished."
மாணவர்களின் குரலுக்குச் செவி கொடுத்திருந்தால், குற்றம் நிகழ்வதைத் தக்க நேரத்தில் தடுத்திருக்க முடியும். (2/2)— Kanimozhi (கனிமொழி) (@KanimozhiDMK) November 13, 2021
பாலியல் தொல்லையால் கோவையில் பள்ளி மாணவி தற்கொலை செய்துகொண்ட சம்பவம் அதிர்ச்சியளிக்கிறது. அவரது மரணத்திற்குக் காரணமானவர்கள் தண்டிக்கப்படவேண்டும். வேலியே பயிரை மேயும் அவலத்திற்குத் தமிழகம் முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைக்கவேண்டும்.— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) November 12, 2021