| Residents of Sukhiapokhari demonstrate in front of St. Charles’ School. Picture by Suman Tamang
Sukhiapokhari, Oct. 23: The principal of a public school was arrested in this idyllic town in the Darjeeling subdivision yesterday on charges of repeated sexual assaults on a boy living in the hostel.
Ali Shah Zaidi, principal of St. Charles’ School, was booked under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code for the “unnatural offence”. He was denied bail and remanded in judicial custody for two weeks.
The 14-year-old student of Class VII, who is reportedly suffering from a brain tumour, was examined at Darjeeling Sadar Hospital. He will now be sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri for more tests.
The town erupted in protest today, with angry residents marching to the school. They were stopped by a squad of policemen at the school gate.
Police said Zaidi, an Iranian, had been living in the country for the last 25 years and had got Indian citizenship. He had set up the part-residential school, affiliated to the ICSE board, in 1999. The co-ed school has 170 students, 15 of whom live in an on-campus dormitory.
Sara Zaidi, the principal’s sister, said her brother was framed. “He is absolutely innocent. Some people conspired to defame my brother since his school was doing very well in this town.”
She said her brother’s arrest was connected to the removal of a woman employee on charges of assaulting students.
The student’s family was surprised when the principal telephoned his home during the puja holiday several times, asking for him. The boy, who comes from a dysfunctional family, was staying with his grandparents in Sukhiapokhari during his holiday.
“On Dussehra, he had come looking for the boy, and, failing to find him at home, he went to the grounds where he had been playing,” aunt Anjali Kalikotey said.
Initially, Kalikotey said, the family had dismissed the teacher’s “unusual interest” in the teenager as “genuine concern for his well-being”. Zaidi, on his part, had told the aunt that he had “personally wanted to guide the boy till he passed his ICSE exams”.
But the family grew suspicious when Zaidi came around the next day, saying he would take the student away to Siliguri for a day.
“Our home was full of relatives visiting us during Dussehra, so we objected to the boy being taken away,” Kalikotey said. On the day school resumed, the principal dropped by the student’s house and offered to take him back to school. The boy refused. He ran off when the teacher tried to grab his hand.
Kalikotey said the boy broke down when they pressed for the reason for his refusal to return to school. “He told us everything in graphic detail. He said the teacher had been assaulting him for a long time,” she added.
A police officer said the principal had confessed to the crime. He said Zaidi had earlier been driven out of Nagri near Mirik, where he had been teaching. “All we can say is his record is not very good,” the officer said.
Though the school was officially open today, teachers and students stayed away. The angry residents said they would not let the school function any more.