Activists and members representing the Christian community display placards as they take part in a peaceful protest rally against what they claim is an increase in hostility, hate, and violence against Christians in various states of the country, in New Delhi on Feb19, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
The sexual assault case against a Catholic school principal in a central Indian state has taken a new turn with students and parents dismissing the allegations as false and demanding action against those behind it.
“It is a false case and no such incident took place in the hostel and the school,” said Akhilesh Yadav, whose two daughters are studying in Jabalpur Diocesan Education Society Higher Secondary School in Junwani, a village in Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh state.
The school has been in the eye of a storm since March 3 following a surprise inspection by members of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
During the visit, a Grade 11 girl reportedly told the team that the principal had touched her inappropriately.
Shivkumar Pusam, a close relative of the girl who accused the principal of inappropriate action, told UCA News on March 14 that “no such incident had taken place.”
“It is true the principal mildly slapped the girl when she went out to buy sweets during class time and it was misrepresented as a case of sexual assault,” Pusam said.
“It is a fake case to tarnish the institution"
Radheshyam Kakodia, the spokesperson of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, an indigenous political outfit, also called the charges “totally baseless."
The tribal-dominated area comes under the provision of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, where the gram sabha (village council) was supposed to be informed before taking any action against such violations, but it was not done, Kakodia added.
“It is a fake case to tarnish the institution serving the poor people in the area,” Kakodia told UCA News on March 14.
He has written to the inspector general of police, demanding an impartial probe.
The inspection team did not follow basic provisions and disturbed the students who were appearing for the annual state board examinations, Kakodia said.
They entered the hostel after 7 p.m. in gross violation of the rules and took girls away from the hostel at night without the consent of the principal, manager and parents.
After the March 3 inspection, Dhanya Kumari Vasiya, chairperson of the district's child welfare committee, complained against the principal, accusing him of violating provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Police took the principal into custody.
The principal was released the following day after parents and students protested. However, he was re-arrested on March 7 and placed in judicial custody.
"My daughters were forced to give false statements"
A Catholic priest, the manager of the school, a nun and another school staff member are named in the case. However, they are yet to be arrested.
“My two daughters — one in Grade 2 and the other in Grade 4 — are staying in the hostel and studying at the school. No such incident took place in the hostel and in the school,” Yadav told UCA News on March 14.
Yadav said at the instruction of the inspection team, police took away his daughters and other girls from the hostel and accommodated them in a government-run facility for three days.
“Hours before the inspection, I was with them in the hostel and they were happy and had not said anything about it and even now they say the same. My daughters were forced to give false statements against the principal and others,” Yadav said.
“I was offered a check for Rs 10,000 (US$121) to ensure that my daughters gave a false statement against the principal and others,” he asserted.
“When I turned down the check and refused to join them, I was threatened,” he said and added that other parents also had a similar experience.
Yadav along with five other parents complained on March 6 to the superintendent of police, the top police official in the district, demanding action against the chairperson of the district child welfare committee for taking their daughters into custody without their permission.
Since the police did not act on his complaint, Yadav filed a fresh complaint on March 10, demanding action against six officials.
“I have forwarded the copies of the complaints to the district collector and other top officials,” he said.
When contacted by UCA News on March 14, the head of the district child welfare committee Vaisya evaded questions by saying state commission officials should be contacted.