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Jesuit Human Rights Worker Demands Punishment For Teachers In Rape Case

Updated: February 17, 2008 05:00 PM GMT
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A Jesuit human rights worker has demanded punishment for six teachers accused of raping a student and sexually harassing the other 97 students in their training college in Gujarat state.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash says the accused, as part of their punishment, should be blacklisted and have their academic certificates withdrawn so they would be unable to get jobs in any educational institution in the country.

The accused are male teachers at the women´s Primary Teachers Training College in Patan district, near the state´s commercial capital of Ahmedabad, 915 kilometers southwest of New Delhi. The students said the men sought sexual favors and threatened to fail them in internal assessment examinations if they did not comply. Students who pass a two-year course in the college are qualified to teach in primary schools.

The scandal broke in late January, after a first-year student alleged that the six teachers gang-raped her 14 times in the previous five months. The 18-year-old is from a dalit, or former "untouchable," community.

It shows a "malaise prevailing in society," Father Prakash, told UCA News on Feb. 11. The priest directs Prashant (tranquil), a human rights center in Ahmedabad, Gujarat´s commercial capital, 915 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

The incident, he added, should be seen as a "fallout of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in which hundreds of Muslim girls were sexually assaulted but no action was taken against the accused." Such injustice emboldens others to sexually assault the poor, he said.

Local media reports said police arrested the teachers, all Hindus, on Feb. 4 and charged them with sexually assaulting the woman beginning on Sept. 11. The woman, coming from an economically and socially poor background, suffered in silence because she wanted to qualify as a teacher and get a job, reports said.

When it became unbearable, she spoke of it to her hostel roommates and friends, who in turn informed the school´s only woman teacher, Bharati Patel, and parents of other students. All 98 college students stay in the hostel.

Patel wrote a complaint of sexual harassment signed by the 98 students to police and state officials, but the police did not act until the students attacked the teachers on the college premises on Feb. 2.

In interviews to media since then, several students said teachers routinely sought sexual favors from them in return for good marks. "And we could not do anything as they had full control" over internal assessments, a student told media.

According to a statement Patel gave to media, the marks-for-sex scandal had been going on for a decade. She first raised the issue in 1997, as a teacher there, but was transferred to another college immediately. She was posted back in Patan only two months ago.

Martin Macwan, who works for Christians of dalit origin, told UCA News that sexually assaulting dalit people "is nothing new" in India. But this incident is especially serious, he explained, "because it happened in an educational institution and the accused are all teachers." Dalit women have been targets of lust for a long time simply because they are "economically, socially, politically and financially weak," he added.

Quoting from a research study, Macwan said Patan district registered 1,041 atrocity cases against dalit women, including 13 cases of rape and 10 murders, between 1989 and 2006. Four of the rape cases four of the murder cases are among the 154 atrocity cases in the past four years alone, he said.

Macwan pointed out the state has 13 legislators from dalit communities, 11 of them members of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people´s party). But they have maintained a "stoic silence" on the Patan case, he observed. "None of them even issued a statement condemning the incident."

Jesuit Father Lancy Lobo, who directs the Centre for Culture and Development, offered another observation. "The issue would have been blown out of proportion had the incident taken place in a Christian institution," he told UCA News.

Father Lobo accused the government of trying to "hush up" the case. His center is in Vadodara, the state´s cultural capital, 115 kilometers southwest of Ahmedabad.

END

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