A class XII student in Kerala may take his board exams next week under police protection after the authorities threatened to bar him from sitting for them because he complained against harassment at school to the police and a central government panel charged with ensuring the rights of children.
The school confiscated the boy's mobile phone after he was caught with it in violation of school rules. When he protested, he was reprimanded, humiliated and threatened action the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) described as "corporal punishment".
Should the state government fail to ensure the boy's protection, both officials and school authorities may have to appear before the commission in Delhi for a hearing. According to Sandhya Bajaj, member, NCPCR, this is what happened.
The student, of Kottayam's Pallikoodam School, went to the police after the authorities refused to return his phone. The police went to the school and got him back his phone, but the school hit back by repeatedly reprimanding him for involving them in the matter. At which point, the boy complained to the NCPCR.
The commission issued a notice to the school, which apparently riled the authorities even more. "He was publicly humiliated in the daily assembly for Class IX, X and XI for approaching us. This amounts to corporal punishment and action can be taken against the school," Bajaj said.
On February 4, an NCPCR team led by Bajaj visited the school and met with the child, his parents, and the school authorities. The school took the line that the boy had been pulled up because he had been bragging about his 'victory' to the other students, and a message needed to be sent out that indiscipline would not be tolerated.
The NCPCR was not willing to buy this. "Even if the boy committed a mistake, he cannot be treated in this manner. It is against the law," Bajaj said. In a letter to the state chief secretary, she wrote: "While interacting with the child I noted that he was very upset. I am scared that he would harm himself."
But the matter still didn't end. On reaching Delhi, Bajaj received another complaint from the boy by email, saying the harassment had increased. He had left the school and gone to Kanoor, about 1,200 km away.
An alarmed NCPCR managed to persuade the boy to return, and told chief secretary PJ Thomas that the school was continuing with its corporal punishment despite the panel's directive. "As it can have long term impact on the child, I request you (Thomas) to intervene and end harassment of the student. If necessary the student should get police protection to appear for his examination," Bajaj said.