Schools are responsible for providing a safe environment to children and ensure that adults there do not pose a risk to them, the Delhi High Court has said and expressed shock over the way a private school here handled students' sexual harassment complaints.
A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Deepa Sharma said a school is where a child is groomed for the society and it is the duty of every such institution to provide safe and healthy atmosphere for the psychological, cognitive and behavioural development of the students.
The court's observations came as it pulled up the management of Modern Public School here for not forwarding to the police the sexual harassment complaints made by some girl students against a male music teacher and brushing it under the carpet.
"In the present case, the manner in which the school authorities have handled the number of sexual harassment complaints received from young girls and their parents, really shocks our conscience.
"Instead of forwarding such complaints to the appropriate authorities for legal action, they felt satisfied by issuing a show cause notice calling upon the explanation probably preparing to take disciplinary action against the appellant (teacher). They must have felt relieved when the appellant submitted his resignation," the bench said.
It said this attitude of the school authorities encouraged the wrongdoers and discouraged the Samaritans - the brave girls who had the courage to make the complaints.
The court said it was an incumbent duty of all to build a protective net around children who have suffered any physical or emotional abuse.
It said that any lenient approach in such cases would adversely affect the psychology of the children who carry the scars of sexual abuse during their childhood to teenage and then to adulthood, without having the satisfaction that the wrongdoer had been punished.
The bench directed the school authorities to forward all the sexual harassment complaints of young girls received by them to the police for necessary action.
"We are aware that much time has elapsed, but the offence still stare stark at our face and we cannot close our eyes just by disposing of this appeal. The school authorities are also directed to extend their full cooperation to the police. The court shall be informed about the action taken within two weeks," it said.
The bench said children spend a considerable amount of time at school and if they face any harassment or untoward behaviour and report it to the administration, it is their duty to deal with such matters strictly.
The court's observations came as it dismissed the plea of Anirudh Kumar Pandey, the music teacher at Modern Public School here, seeking reinstatement. He was accused of outraging the modesty of girl students and misbehaving with women teachers in September 2000.
When the school had sought an explanation from him, he submitted his resignation which was approved by the school management and forwarded to the Directorate of Education (DoE) for approval. DoE accorded the approval and his services were dispensed with by the school.
Though he had later written a letter withdrawing his resignation, the school had already accepted his resignation.
The teacher, in his plea, claimed that the resignation was withdrawn by him before it was approved by DoE and his resignation was not voluntary and was extracted through coercion and duress.
The school, however, contended that it had received several complaints of sexual harassment against the teacher and his resignation had been accepted right away.
The bench said there was no merit in the teacher's appeal challenging an order of a single judge of the high court upholding the termination of his services.
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