Print Edition - 2019-02-06 | News
Two more teachers from Lalitpur Madhyamik accused of sexual abuse
- A document started by the school’s alumni has over 40 testimonials from former students detailing molestation by the school’s teachers
-, , LALITPUR
Feb 6, 2019-
When Rosha Pokharel came across the Post’s report detailing Bodha ‘Basu’ Tripathee’s sexual abuse of students at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya, it brought back horrific memories of her own. Rosha was also in the third grade at Lalitpur Madhyamik, nine years old at the time, when a teacher put his hands inside her tunic, rubbed her thighs, and occasionally reached up to her vagina. Only, in her case, the teacher who abused her wasn’t Basu Tripathee. It was a Nepali teacher at the same school.Rosha, who is 32 now, graduated from Lalitpur Madhyamik in 2003 and works as a data scientist in the United States, but she said the memories of what she went through continue to haunt her.
“I tried to erase those memories,” Rosha said in a phone interview. “Since the #MeToo movement took centre stage in the US, memories started flooding back to my mind and I couldn’t help but think, what if he is still doing that to other kids.”
Rosha is among nearly a dozen women who have reached out to the Post in the wake of a report published last month detailing decades of abuse and molestation by Lalitpur Madhyamik’s maths teacher.
While a number of the women spoke about instances of abuse by Tripathee, others named two other teachers—Sumanta ‘Suman’ KC and Gokul Sharma—as abusive and predatory. KC, a Nepali teacher, continues to teach at the school, while Sharma, an English teacher, had moved on to St Mary’s School before quitting late last year.
The Post also obtained a document started by the school’s alumni that collates testimonials from over 40 students, accusing at least four teachers other than Tripathee of various degrees of molestation, abuse and harassment. While most of the testimonials—29 statements in total—are against Tripathee, six women have accused KC while five have accused Gokul Sharma of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour in the document. According to one of the ex-students, the testimonials will be handed over to the Forum for Women, Law and Development, and the Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) to explore legal options.
The document describes in graphic detail the abuse many of the girls had to undergo when they were attending Lalitpur Madhyamik.
“During summers, Suman sir would tie a handkerchief around his neck and let it slide underneath his vest. He would then ask me to find the handkerchief by putting my hands inside his clothes and all over his body,” Rosha said. “When I couldn’t find it, he would just tell me to look harder.”
When the Post reached out to KC for comment, the Nepali teacher was apoplectic, screaming that he would not give a statement over the phone and that the Post needed to meet with him. The Post met with KC in Lagankhel, where KC denied all allegations and instead, accused school’s Vice-principal Geeta Sitaula of framing him.
KC alleged that Sitaula had been trying to get rid of him for numerous years because he belonged to a Maoist union that had been at odds with the school administration. Sitaula had conspired with the former students to accuse him of crimes he had never committed, KC said.
“I have never even touched any of these girls,” he said.
Like KC, numerous allegations of abuse were also levelled against Gokul Sharma, an English teacher who is no longer with the school.
Salina Karki, 27, was in the third grade when Sharma was assigned as her after-school tutor. Karki said she was horrified to learn that she had to study with him as she had heard how he would kiss girls on their lips in classrooms. She went to Sharma’s residence in Mangal Bazaar every day where he would teach while his wife and daughter were still home.
“When Gokul sir’s wife was busy with her daily chores, he used to kiss me on my lips in a hurry and then feel my chest,” Karki recalled in an interview. Although she said she always pushed him off, Sharma’s audacity only increased by the day. “Sir used to put his hands under my clothes, under the table, even when his wife was right there,” she said. Karki started taking her younger brother with her in hopes of deterring Sharma, but even that didn’t stop him. He continued to abuse her, she said.
Sharma, too, categorically denied all the allegations. “I taught at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya around 20 years ago, and I do not recollect misconducting myself in any manner,” he told the Post over the phone. When pressed further, he said that “the accusers have no proof”.
Among those accusing KC of misconduct are Honey Shrestha and Junu Shrestha, both of whom graduated in 2010 from the Lalitpur school. Honey said she clearly remembers KC’s Nepali classes in third grade.
“He would come to us, make us sit on his lap while he checked our homework. Then he would touch our private parts from underneath our tunics,” said Honey, now 26 and an artist by profession. “After he was done, he would sniff his fingers.”
Incidents like these were regular occurrences when they were children and in lower grades, Honey said. However, the molestation stopped as they moved up classes. “I don’t remember him doing anything to us after the third grade, although he taught us until grade 7,” she said. “Maybe he thought we wouldn’t say anything to anyone because we were so young when it all happened.”
Junu Shrestha too recalls similar experiences with KC when he taught her from grades three to five. “Along with touching our thighs underneath our skirts, KC sir would put his hands inside our shirt pockets in the pretence of looking for something, and then touch our breasts which weren’t even fully formed,” said Junu, now 26. “We were children then and didn’t know what was happening. I do not remember telling anyone about it except to friends who went through the same thing every day.”
However, during her final year at the school, in 2010, Junu said she went to file a complaint with Vice-principal Sitaula, who was then just part of the faculty. “In our last year in school, teachers asked us for feedback regarding the school and its policies,” said Junu. “And because Geeta ma’am was a teacher with progressive thoughts, I told her what Suman sir had done to me, and what, according to rumours in the school, he was still doing to other students.”
Sitaula, however, brushed off her complaints and told her “You have no idea what could happen if things like these came out,” Junu recalled in an interview with the Post.
Just like with Tripathee, the allegations of abuse against KC are from former students who range across the years. Rosha, Honey and Junu were seven years apart and yet, their stories show a similar pattern of behaviour by KC. Two other women—Rojina Byanjankar McCarthy, who graduated in 2003 and Ritu Shrestha, who left the school in 2008—have also accused KC of molestation.
“When I came across the news a week ago, I knew it was time for us to stand up for what happened to us. I was in third grade when KC used to come next to my bench and put me on his lap. I remember him touching me inappropriately in my thighs and my back,” Rojina said.
Ritu, meanwhile, left the school part-way through her studies, one of the primary reasons being the constant sexual harassment she faced from her teachers, particularly KC. “Even today, shivers run down my spine when I recall those days,” Ritu said. “KC’s targets were usually those who were good academically and who looked good. He would bend over our desks and elbow our breasts. He would put his hands inside our tunics and massage our backs.”
Following the Post’s report on Tripathee last month, Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya was besieged by nearly a hundred parents and former students, demanding that the school take action. An agreement drawn up between the school and the former students pledged to take reformative action, including classes on what constitutes abuse for both students and teachers, and the hiring of an independent counsellor.
Sitaula, the embattled vice-principal, had initially reported to the gathered crowd that Tripathee had been fired, but the Post later discovered that he had been suspended for a week pending a clarification. His suspension ends on Wednesday, February 6.
When the Post attempted to reach Sitaula on the phone, she hung up immediately. Repeated calls and text messages went unanswered.
Sitaula has also been warning current students at the school to not speak to the Post, according to a former student.
The Post has been unable to reach current students at the school and so far, all of the women who have contacted the Post have been former students.
One student—who wished to remain anonymous and only studied at the school for two years, in grades
four and five from 2000 to 2001—reported incidents similar to Karki’s allegations against Gokul Sharma. She said that Sharma would not just kiss girls on the lips, but also “force his tongue down our throats.”
“Just thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable,” the student, now 27, said. “I was a child then, barely nine years old, and did not complain to anyone because I didn’t know we were allowed to file complaints against teachers.”
In sixth grade, her parents moved her to St Mary’s in Lalitpur. She was initially relieved to leave Lalitpur Madhyamik but then, a couple of years later, Sharma too joined St Mary’s as an English teacher. “Thankfully, he only taught primary level students so I wasn’t in his classes,” she said. “I never heard rumours of him molesting other girls at the new school though. Maybe it was because it was a strict school, or maybe because his daughter also studied at the school.”
Published: 06-02-2019 10:26