By Farooq Shah
Of late, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a troubling series of events, each more disquieting than the previous ones. These occurrences have implicated teachers who, regrettably, have not only violated the trust placed in them but have also tarnished the sacred bond between teachers and students.
These incidents are forcing us to think whether a few individuals with questionable intentions have cast a shadow over this foundation. Hence, it is crucial that we delve into these deeply troubling instances of alleged sexual exploitation and improper behaviour taking place within our educational institutions, addressing them comprehensively to safeguard the integrity of this crucial relationship.
Few months ago, a principal of a higher secondary school was arrested, ignominiously, for allegedly molesting and harassing a girl student. This distressing incident served as the continuation of a string of similarly disheartening events that have deeply affected our society. The accusations encompass various transgressions, including phone calls and troubling leaks of inappropriate conversations, all of which undermine the fundamental trust within the teacher-student relationship.
This troubling pattern extends to religious schools as well, where Molvis have been accused of sexually molesting underage girls. An illustrative instance took place in Srinagar, involving a Molvi from Uttarakhand, underscoring the widespread occurrence of such troubling events within these institutions.
Pertinently, these occurrences are not isolated; they resonate throughout our country and reveal a widespread issue that we can no longer ignore.
The foundation of education is built upon the trust that students and their parents repose in their teachers. Parents send their kids to school with a firm belief that teachers are not only conveyors of knowledge but also their mentors who shape their character and impart values to live a decent life. Nevertheless, when a handful of educators violate this trust by exploiting their position for personal satisfaction, it disrupts the very foundation of our educational system.
To tackle this serious problem, we need to embrace a comprehensive approach that goes beyond punitive actions and includes preventative and educational strategies. The establishment of sexual harassment cells within educational institutions, often staffed by untrained personnel, has proven to be an inadequate effort that produces limited outcomes.
In some instances, well-intentioned female teachers entrusted with conducting awareness campaigns have inadvertently exacerbated the problem by approaching the subject insensitively. This highlights the urgent need for professional and effective training programs that tackle the issue of sexual harassment head-on, facilitated by experts who possess a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in dealing with this sensitive issue.
Our teacher training programs are not structured to address such urgent situations, and when they do, they are presented in an unrefined manner. An instance from the online Nishtha teacher training module designed by the NCERT, New Delhi, on sexual harassment featured a question that was not only in poor taste but also highly objectionable.
The true-false question presented was: “Can one infer a child’s engagement or interest in a sexual act if they do not vocalize distress, resist, physically oppose, or provide consent during the act?”
Hence, it becomes crucial to adopt a proactive approach to prevention by implementing thorough training programs for teachers right from the outset of their tenure. These programs should prioritize correct classroom conduct and establish explicit, unambiguous standards for appropriate interactions with students, with the aim of instilling a safer and more supportive learning atmosphere.
In addition to addressing the content, we should also consider the language used in these training modules. The terms “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch” have been widely criticized for their insensitivity, especially when there are alternative, less invasive terms and methodologies available. It is essential to choose words that encourage understanding and empathy, rather than perpetuating discomfort or misunderstanding.
The need of the hour is to transform these training modules into professional, sensitive, and effective resources that provide teachers with the necessary tools to recognize, prevent, and address issues related to sexual harassment. This transformation should be carried out under the guidance of experts who have a profound understanding of the subject matter. We cannot afford to trivialize or mishandle a topic as delicate as this one especially when the future of our students and the reputation of our education system are at stake.
While these incidents of sexual exploitation of students by teachers are not unique to our country, what sets us apart is our response to them. It is true that laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act exist, but they are only generalized ones and do not specifically address misconduct within the educational context.
In contrast, countries like the United Kingdom take a firmer stance, barring teachers found guilty of such delinquent behaviour from returning to the classroom. It is high time that we consider implementing similar stringent measures in our country to safeguard our students and maintain the integrity of our education system.
In conclusion, there is no relationship as profound and influential as that between a teacher and a student. It is a bond that shapes minds, nurtures dreams, and holds the promise of a brighter future. However, the actions of a few delinquent individuals must not be allowed to cast a dark shadow over the entire teaching community. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every child can learn and grow in an environment that is not just academically enriching but also safe, nurturing, and free from fear.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author can be reached at [email protected]
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