A 17-year-old girl was allegedly locked in a bathroom and harassed by five of her classmates at a private school in Jodhpur last week.
The victim, who had joined Sohanlal Manihar Girls' Senior Secondary School, claimed she was cornered by the older girls on 8 July, her first day at the institution, forced into a stall in a washroom during recess, stripped and "sexually assaulted".
Although her parents initially complained to the school authorities, they decided to go to the police after the latter failed to take satisfactory action. The police have charged the accused, as well as the school administration, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.
This may be one of the few instances where an incident of ragging in a school has been registered under this Act. "We have registered an FIR under Sections 7/8, 11/12 (against the girls) and under Sections 19/21 (against the school administration) of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO)," Jodhpur police commissioner Ashok Rathore told The Indian Express.
Section 7 of POCSO defines sexual assault as inappropriate touching of genitals with sexual intent, while Section 8 prescribes a prison term of three to five years for such an assault. Section 11 and 12 address forced stripping under sexual harassment and prescribes a term of three years of imprisonment.
Since the existing anti-ragging law applies to college students and does not cover schools, the police decided to take this course of action. Given the nature of the incident, as well as the age of the victim and the perpetrators, the move seems to have been prudent.
Hari Gopal Rathi, the secretary of the school, claimed that a committee was formed to enquire into the incident after the girl brought it to the notice of the administration, but the report submitted by it was negative. Now a fresh committee has been formed to review the report that was filed earlier. The state education department has initiated a probe into the matter as well, the results of which are expected to be known in two days.
The school's principle, Vidyarthi Kalla, was sceptical about the credibility of the incident. Speaking to The Indian Express he said that the bathrooms in the school, where around 1,600 students study, are always crowded and such an incident is unlikely to have happened there. He also expressed surprise at the fact that the victim went through the rest of her schoolday after the incident had occurred and only came back with her parents at 12.30 pm the next day to lodge a complaint.
The victim wrote to the state education minister on Thursday saying that the experience has shaken her faith in the schooling system, made her want to quit studies, and almost consider suicide. Days after a schoolboy in Bengaluru killed himself, allegedly bullied by his school friends, this incident puts the spotlight on a problem that is endemic to the education system in India and the need for stringent laws to address it.