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Kerala students expelled for ‘long hug’: Girl says it was friendly and mutual, now future is bleak

The issue has sparked a debate on the school’s moral policing, with state MP Shashi Tharoor accusing authorities for “sexualising innocent affection”.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2017 18:49 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala student suspended,Kerala long hug,Kerala high court
The Kerala high court has upheld the decision of the St Thomas Central School, Makkolakkal, to suspend the student.(PTI file)

A leading private school in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram has expelled two of its students - a girl and a boy - over their “prolonged hugging” in public, triggering a raging debate on discipline and morality in the southern state.

The girl, a Class 11 student, was embraced by the senior boy in front of the audience after she got the first prize for singing American singer John Legend’s “All of Me” in the Western musical contest on July 21.

Principal Sebastian T Joseph summoned the parents of both the students soon after the incident. They tendered a written apology but the school’s management suspended them in August. They were expelled in November and the boy’s parents approached the state children’s commission which directed the school to take them back.

However, the school later challenged the commission’s order in the high court. The high court upheld the school’s decision, saying it was the principal’s responsibility to maintain decorum and morality inside the campus and dismissed the children commission’s directive to continue their education.

‘Just a hug’

Both the students claim it was a mutual congratulatory hug that lasted only a few seconds but the school said it was a prolonged hug and they violated the discipline.

“It was a friendly mutual hug. My friend was happy with the way I sang. Both of us never expected things will come to such a pass. Our future is bleak since many schools that came to know about this are denying chances to continue education,” the girl told the Hindustan Times.

She said school authorities later forced her to give an undertaking that it was not a mutual hug but a forced one to avoid initiating action against her. She said she refused and was expelled from the school in November.

The girl alleged that the school authorities later hacked into her Instagram account and procured some other photos to portray both of them in a bad light. Parents of both the students said they were humiliated by the school management.

The Class 12 student has said he will appeal against the high court order so that he can appear for his board examination next year.

According to the boy’s father, the congratulatory hug was “blown out of proportion” by the school authorities and it completely “demoralised” his son.

However, the school said that it did it in the best interest of the institution and all are bound to go by its rules of discipline and decorum. It said both were warned when they were hugging but they prolonged it and insulted the teacher who asked them to stop it.

“We don’t want to rake it up again. Since the high court has given a verdict everyone has to accept it,” school’s principal Joseph said.

The school authorities maintained that the boy was suspended in order to discipline him and it was up to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to take a call on the matter. “We have no problem if the CBSE allows him to take the exam,” Joseph said.

He, however, said that the student did not have the requisite attendance.

“Our intention is to reform the child, not to break him, but to make him,” the principal told news agency Press Trust of India.

Joseph claimed that the student was allowed to appear for an examination in September even after an inquiry panel of teachers had found that the “five-minute-long hug” was “intentional” and “with bad intentions”.

His father said that they were planning to appeal against the single bench’s order and alleged that his child was subjected to humiliation.

“The trauma and mental agony suffered by him is still lingering,” he told PTI.

‘Back to the medieval era’

The alumni of the school have started an online petition demanding the management to revoke their expulsion.

They said the school overreacted over a harmless hug between the two students and rather than taking it as the innocuous adolescent behaviour it blew it out of proportion.

The petition clocked 1,500 signatures on the first day and went up to 3,000 on the second.

The school’s alumni strongly deplored the expulsion of the Class 11 girl and Class 12 boy and one of them said in the petition that the school should set a time limit for hugs to know whether it is short or a prolonged one.

“Your moral compasses are leading students back to the medieval era,” another former student said in the petition.

But the institution has stood its ground, saying it has got the stamp of approval from the Kerala high court.

Many writers, activists and Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor have also asked the school to reconsider its decision.

“Puritanical patriarchy run rampant. By sexualizing innocent affection between friends and fellow students, we are creating self-conscious hypocrites trained to suppress their feelings. And in this case, damaging a student’s academic career, I am appalled,” Tharoor tweeted criticising the action of the school.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 16:34 IST