“School has killed me,” says suicide note of teenager, facing gender violence

The student’s jewellery kit

The suicide of a 15-year-old from Delhi Public School in Greater Faridabad has sent ripples across the country pointing to the institutionalized bullying plaguing Indian schools.

Jumping from the top of the residential building on the night of 24 February, the teenager was declared dead when he was taken to the hospital.

The school authorities were brought into question when the purported suicide note written by the deceased stated: “This school has killed me. Especially higher authorities.”

The boy (as acknowledged by his mother) used to live with his single mother who was the teacher at the same school.

“He was a nail artist and loved to design jewellery. People harassed him for his art”, says Aarti Malhotra, the mother of the deceased.

“I verbally complained about the sexual harassment he went through and then also mailed. No action was taken. Instead, they blamed my child”, she added.

The boy’s close friend, Harsh Vardhan (16), who lives in a nearby building, tells that he had met the boy around 15 minutes before the suicide. “I have become a burden for everyone. Now I cannot take it anymore”, Harsh remembers that these were the boy’s last words.

According to him, the boy had also confided in him a few days ago that once, he was blindfolded with his hands tied, stripped and sexually harassed by 4-5 students in the school bathroom.

The Haryana Police, on Sunday, arrested the academic head of the school, Mamta Gupta, who has been accused in the suicide note, under Section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. “She (Gupta) insulted him because he (the boy) was dyslexic. He was already depressed. She further made his situation worse”, claims the boy’s mother,

Before her arrest, Gupta was quoted saying to the ANI that the students who used to trouble the boy have left the school. The family denies and claims that those boys are still studying in the same school and the school administration is scared of taking action against them because of their powerful family background.

Cycle of Bullying

His friends tell that the boy was a nail artist. He liked wearing nail polish and jewellery. He even painted the walls of his room. “I don’t belong to this place. I am made for the western world”, the boy’s friends from the neighbourhood recall him saying this to them once.

His cousin, who has known the boy since childhood, tells that the bullying started when the boy opened up about his sexuality to someone in the class. “Mohit (name changed) was his (the boy’s) good friend earlier but then he became his bully. He along with the other boys used to comment on his private parts and called him ch*kka (a slur used for gay people),” she alleged.

She claims that the harassment was not only limited to the school. “During the pandemic, when the schools were shut down, they (alleged bullies) added the boy to an Instagram group where they passed abusive comments against him”, she recalls.

According to her, the boy was also trying to fit in the school but most of his classmates hated him for being gay.

“Once he came running to me and told me that Mohit was calling him again and again. The fear on his face was evident,” she added.

The institutionalized problem

The suicide case of the teenager raises the question of the lack of sensitisation for queer students in Indian schools. Harish Iyer, a queer rights activist and survivor of bullying, believes that there is no effective mechanism for sex, sexuality and gender sensitisation available in Indian schools. He says, “Not imparting education is misinformation. Teachers need to be informed as they also come with prejudices.” He also points to the need for having a queer affirmative counselling cell for queer children as well as queerphobic children in every school.

The Teacher-Training Manual On Transgender-Inclusive School Education published by National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) was taken off from their website after a complaint was filed with National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in November 2021.

The NCPCR wrote a letter to NCERT stating that it had received complaints against the content of the teaching manual. This step was heavily criticized by Queer rights groups who believed that the manual was a good step for sensitising teachers about queer students.

Speaking to Maktoob, Priyank Kanoongo, the Chairperson of NCPCR, says, “We have received the complaint (the suicide case). We are taking cognizance of that and will issue a notice soon.”

When asked about the withdrawal of the manual from the NCERT website and addressing targeted bullying of Queer students, Kanoongo pointed to the Manual of Safety and Security of Children in School and says “Bullying is already covered in this manual and we are issuing a notice in the specific incident.” He did not give details about the status of the transgender inclusion manual.

Where’s the safe space?

Shayan, a queer activist, felt “triggered” hearing about this incident. It took him back to the days of his school where he dealt with bullying and sexual harassment. “They (bullies) wrote on my back ch*kka and other swear words. I also faced violence. But I could not complain to anybody,” he said while recalling his painful experiences.

Not only Shayan, but many people from the queer community took on social media platforms about how this suicide case has hit home. In most cases, the bullying of queer students is specific and targeted. Be it their non-conformity to traditional gender norms or sexual orientation, queer students across the spectrum are subjected to various kinds of harassment in the schools with no effective support from the school administration.

Vedika Saxena, Project Coordinator at Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar informs about the queer affirmative mechanism that their school has put in place.

“Way back in 2013, we initiated a campaign ‘Breaking Barrier’ where the prime motto was the inclusion of LGBT. Every year, we celebrate Pride month and even interact with the LGBT community members”, Saxena said.

She also tells that some schools in Delhi have even started ‘Ally Cells’ for making a safe space for Queer children.

Asked about the incident at DPS Greater Faridabad, she said, “Did the school (DPS Greater Faridabad) have a counsellor? What did the authorities do when the boy’s mother filed a complaint? How could this incident even take place with the school being aware of bullying? These are the questions the authorities need to answer.”

Aman Singh is a post-graduate student of journalism in Jamia Millia Islamia. He likes to report on stories from marginalised groups.