Sunirmal Chakravarthi, principal of La Martiniere for Boys, outside the court on judgment day. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The principal of La Martiniere for Boys and three teachers have been acquitted of the charge of abetting schoolboy Rouvanjit Rawla’s suicide, the court’s verdict coming loaded with the observation that punishment for indiscipline is part of a “student-teacher relationship”.
Sessions judge Madhuchhanda Bose said Class VIII student Rouvanjit’s suicide at home on February 12, 2010, could not be linked to him being caned by principal Sunirmal Chakravarthi four days before the tragic incident.
The fast-track bench, which had taken over the case from the metropolitan magistrate’s court, also cleared teachers L.J. Gunnion, David Ryan and Partha Dutta of the charge that they were harsh on Rouvanjit to the point of driving him to suicide.
“In (a) student-teacher relationship, if (a) student breaks discipline and a teacher gives minimum punishment, a student accepts this as usual and normal. These alleged acts of the accused persons cannot be said to have abetted the suicide,” Bose said in an 11-page judgment that could stir the already polarised debate on what corrective measures teachers can use to “discipline” students.
The verdict was based on the testimonies of students whom the cops had questioned after Rouvanjit’s father Ajay Rawla filed a complaint with Shakespeare Sarani police station four months after his son’s death. Ajay accused principal Chakravarthi and the three teachers of “physical and mental torture” on Rouvanjit.
“It is evident from the statements of the students (presented by police as witnesses) that (the) deceased and his friends on (a) few occasions caused disturbance in the class and naturally the teachers, being duty-bound, without any animosity, but with affection tried to transform him and his friends,” sessions judge Bose said.
Principal Chakravarthi said his “relief” was tinged with sadness at losing a student. Rouvanjit’s father, who is abroad, issued a statement through his lawyer saying that he would appeal in a higher court.
“The primary feeling is of relief. But I cannot forget that one of my boys died and our sympathies lie with the family. We are acquitted of the charges and that is what the school always maintained. It is just that it is nothing to be joyous about because I cannot forget that I lost one of my boys,” Chakravarthi said.
The principal of La Martiniere for Boys had told The Telegraph on June 14, 2010, that caning Rouvanjit was a mistake. But he contested the allegation that it drove the boy to suicide.
The police had charged him and the three teachers with “causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means (Sections 323 and 324 of the IPC)” and “torturing a minor (Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act)”.
The metropolitan magistrate’s court added abetment to suicide of child (Section 305 of the IPC) to the list of charges.
“The act alleged against the accused persons must be such that which must have been intended to push the deceased into such a situation that he has no other alternative but to commit suicide. Mere… attempt… on the part of the accused persons to discipline/transform the deceased by adopting slight corrective measures cannot be said, as alleged, to be an act of abetment,” the fast-track bench ruled.
Lawyer Amit Bhattacharya said he had requested his client, Rouvanjit’s father, for time to study the verdict before deciding where and when to appeal. “He is now in Singapore. He called me from there. He wants to move a higher court against the fast-track court’s verdict.”
The fast-track court noted that available evidence didn’t suggest Rouvanjit was depressed in the days leading to his suicide.
“According to the statement(s) of the witness(es), during the three days (before he rejoined school on February 12) he celebrated the birthday of his elder brother along with his family members, who never said that during these three days he was found morose or in a pensive mood and, as such, the alleged incident (caning in school) of February 8 had no nexus or impact with the unfortunate passing away on February 12,” it said. “His immediate conduct during these days, reaction, behavioural patterns, mode of spending time, speak of a happy mind.”
Irrespective of what triggered it, Rouvanjit’s suicide forced schools to take a long, hard look at corporal punishment. La Martiniere iterated that corporal punishment was banned.
“The (school) board made it abundantly clear that corporal punishment was strictly prohibited. I apologised to them. It will not be practised any more,” Chakravarthi had said in the wake of the storm.
Debanjan Mandal of Fox & Mandal, the legal firm representing the principal and the three teachers, said the verdict had “established beyond doubt” that they were not to blame for the tragedy.
Principal Chakravarthi had earlier told The Telegraph: “It may be difficult to manage boys without strong disciplinary measures but with it being banned we will look for other methods that are positive, innovative and effective. That is going to be the way forward.”