The Muzaffarnagar School slapping case, which deals with a primary school Hindu teacher instigating her students to slap a young Muslim child, is being overlooked by the Supreme Court of India. Since the month of September, myriad directions and orders have been passed by the Court for the Uttar Pradesh government and its Education Department to comply by. And yet, in its recent hearing, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal came down heavily upon the state for its inaction and their “shocking approach” to the orders of the Court.
It is also essential to note that this was not the first time that the Court had expressed disappointment with how the state had handled the current case. In another prior hearing, the Court had questioned at the delay in the registration of the FIR (First Information Report) filed in the case. The court had also voiced their dissatisfaction at the omission of allegations regarding communal hatred from the FIR lodged against the teacher. During the said hearing of September 25, the Supreme Court had observed that there was a “prima facie failure on the part of the State” to comply with the mandate of the Right to Education Act, which prohibits any form of physical and mental harassment of students and their discrimination on the basis of religion and caste.
Brief about the case:
In the month of August, a video of a Muslim boy being beaten up, slapped and humiliated in front of the entire class in a school in Uttar Pradesh surfaced on social media. The video showed the accused teacher, namely Tripta Tyagi, making communal comments and ordering her students to slap a Muslim classmate for not doing his homework. The incident created outrage on social media. A case was registered against a teacher in Muzaffarnagar who allegedly encouraged her students to slap a classmate.
The FIR was registered against the school teacher under Section 323 (punishment for causing voluntary hurt) and Section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).
The petition was filed by activist Tushar Gandhi in the beginning of September. The petition sought for an independent, proper and time-bound investigation in the case. The petition further urged for the invocation of several offences prescribed under IPC including Section 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and Section 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of IPC. Direction had also been sought for investigation of offences under JJ Act.
Orders on counselling and admission of child victim
Counselling: It is essential to highlight here that during the hearing held on October 30, advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for petitioner Tushar Gandhi, had provided that the father of the child had contacted them and brought to their notice that the child victim is traumatised and does not want to meet or interact with anybody after the incident.
The court had also been appraised of the affidavit submitted by the father of the victim which highlighted the victim being in a state of trauma. The order states “Today, the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner has tendered an affidavit dated 28th October, 2023 of the father of the victim child. He states that as an officer of the Court, he has tried to interact with the victim child, but found that the child is severely traumatized.”
Keeping in view of this, the Court had noted with the utmost that “When it comes to the future of the victim child and his welfare, the state cannot treat this litigation as adversarial.” The bench had then However, during the present hearing, the ordered the asked the state government to conduct ensure that counselling of the alleged victim and other students involved in the incident takes place by professional counsellors.
Admission: During the hearings, the question of admitting the child victim to a school in UP was also discussed by the Supreme Court. On the hearing of November 6, the Bench was briefed by the counsel for the education department that the father of the child victim has sought admission in a CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) school rather than a UP board school. Advocate Farasat had further informed that the school in question is a good private school in the area which provides seats for economically weaker sections.
The education department, however, pointed out that since school in which the victim’s father was keen to get him admitted was a private school, a committee had been formed by them. Upon this response, Justice Oka expressed his surprised and questioned the necessity of a committee proposed to be constituted by the Uttar Pradesh government to facilitate the victim’s admission to a private school. Coming down harshly on the education department, Justice Abhay S Oka asked, “Why do you have to appoint a committee for this as well? Please don’t take such a stand that you want to appoint a committee. What will the committee do?” the report of the LiveLaw provided.
Not only this, but the court had also orally directed the State to ensure that a senior government officer spoke to the principal of the school in which the child’s father was keen to get him admitted. Justice Oka said, “Please see that some senior government officer talks to the principal of the school. It’ll be done. I don’t think any school will say no given the facts of the case.” The bench had ordered for there to be compliance with this order before the November 10 hearing.
Remarks by the Supreme Court on non-compliance by the State with its orders
On November 10, the division bench of the Supreme Court had admonished the state government and it’s Education Department for not complying with the orders passed by the Court regarding providing counselling to the child victim in the case. At the outset, the Bench commented that issue of the lack of proper counselling provided to the child and other students still remains. The court questioned Advocate Sanjay Jain, appearing for the state of UP, to provide the affidavit showcasing the compliance by the State on counselling and state. “Where is compliance regarding counselling, admission? There are several aspects. There’s no compliance by the state? Where’s the affidavit?” Justice Oka had asked.
To this above question, Advocate Sanjay Jain had informed the Court that that a team with three doctors, one psychiatrist, a nurse, and a community person has been formed for counselling. Justice Oka had responded by questioning the adequacy and competency of professionals engaged in counselling given the seriousness of the incident. “Who are those professionals? In such a serious incident, can a nurse, or secretary do counselling? Whether you appointed a child psychologist?” Justice Oka asked.
The counsel responded to the questions put forth by the bench by providing that a psychiatrist has been appointed by the state. “We’ve appointed a psychiatrist,” the counsel informed as per LiveLaw. To this, Justice Oka further rebuked the state that, “There’s a difference- we expect the state to understand the difference between a psychiatrist and a child psychologist.”
The bench then enquired about the steps taken by the state on getting the child victim admitted to the CBSE private school the father of the child was keen on getting admission into. Justice Oka asked the counsel representing the State “Where’s the response to the affidavit filed by father? Not a single compliance by the state. He’s not been admitted to a single school.”
The Counsel tried to assure that necessary directions were given by the State and only the father of the child victim is left to fulfil the formalities. Questioning the submission made by the counsel, Justice OKA asked Advocate Jain to present any compliance affidavit. As per the report of LiveLaw, Justice Oka remarked, “Show us that the school has agreed to admit students. First, produce a letter by school. There’s no compliance by state, who’s the Secretary? We’ll procure his presence. Show us a single statement- We’ve gone through the affidavit meticulously”.
In furtherance to this, the Court inquired about the responsibility for expenses for schooling, which the counsel specified would fall under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) scheme. Expressing scepticism about the state’s willingness to act without a direct order, Justice Oka stated “Unless we pass an order, they won’t do anything. Whether you want to comply, or you want to do face-saving?”
The Counsel expressed his willingness to comply with the court order. The bench voiced its concern that the affected student was left in distress for so long, and added “The Order passed on 25th September, now we’re on 10th November. The students are treated like this in your state and the state remains silent”.
The Court dismaying noted that “We find that the State of UP and in particular the Education Department has not complied with various orders passed by the court from time to time starting from 25th September. No proper counselling has been conducted for victim child and other children involved. To say the least, the approach of the state, as can be seen affidavit, is shocking”, as reported by LiveLaw.
Orders passed by the Supreme Court regarding counselling of the child victim:
Taking matters into their own hands, the Court then appointed the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to help with the counselling of the involved children. As per the order, the Court stated “We, therefore, appoint TISS to suggest the mode and manner of extending counselling to the students. TISS will also suggest the names of expert child counsellors who can extend counselling under the supervision of TISS,” as per the LiveLaw report.
In addition to this, the Court also directed the Principal Secretary of the Education Department to appear virtually for the next hearing scheduled on December 11, 2023. The bench also warned of taking strong action if the orders passed by the Supreme Court are not complied with well in advance to the next date of hearing. The court ordered “We direct Principal Secretary of Education Department to be present virtually. To avoid any strong action by the court, we hope and trust that the Secretary will personally look into the matter and ensure that the order passed by this are complied by in letter and spirit and affidavits are placed at least 3 days in advance before next date.”