A school in the Darjeeling hills has been accused of trying to “settle” a case of alleged sexual assault on a 14-year-old female student, raising concerns about rising instances of institutions and individuals trying to interfere in such incidents in contravention of a relevant provision of the Pocso Act.
Section 21 of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act states that failure to report to police a case by those in charge of institutions could attract a jail term of one year, along with a fine.
On September 12, the victim, a Class VII student, was allegedly taken to a classroom by four girls from the venue of a Teachers’ Day programme.
“The four girls apparently went to use the washroom, leaving the other one inside the classroom. It is said that after some time, four boys came to the classroom,” said a source.
Three boys allegedly stood outside the classroom to keep a watch on other people, while the fourth one tried to “propose to the girl”.
“When the girl refused the proposal, she was allegedly slapped, threatened with dire consequences, bitten on the chest, and subjected to penetrative sexual assault,” said the source.
The family members apparently came to know about the incident from the traumatised girl two days later.
“The girl’s father went to the school but he was not received well. The father was told that the school authorities would settle the matter internally. According to Section 21 of the Pocso Act, the school authorities are required to report the matter to police immediately but they failed to do so,” said Nirnay John Chhetri, the founder of the Mankind in Action for Rural Growth (MARG)
The teacher-in-charge of the school denied the allegation. “We have no reason to settle the issue. We are cooperating in this case,” the teacher told The Telegraph.
The father of the victim said: “The school authorities told me that the institution is very old and while I could do anything, I should not drag the school’s name to the case and bring disrepute to the school.”
Chhetri said the Pocso Act clearly says the school authorities should inform the police as soon the matter was brought to their notice.
“It was only after we came to know about the incident that a case was registered at a police station on September 19. The school authorities should have informed the police the moment they came to know about the incident,” said Chhetri.
The police detained the accused boy on Monday for interrogation.
MARG expressed apprehension about the growing trend to “settle” Pocso cases.
“In this case, the school authorities were probably not aware of how to act in such a situation. However, in recent times, we have come across incidents where local samajs and leaders have tried to settle such issues. Such matters can be handled only by the police and the judiciary,” said Chhetri who added that awareness drives on such issues were most important.
“Not just students but even teachers should participate in such drives.”