[Suicide] | Educational institutions must recognise the malady of harsh discipline so that lives of young souls can be saved: Karnataka HC

karnataka high court

Karnataka High Court: In the instant case where a young student had committed suicide and as result the parents of the deceased child, had held the petitioners responsible for the same, the Bench of M. Nagaprasanna, J.*, rejected the petition seeking quashment of Magistrate’s order wherein he took cognizance of the offences punishable under Sections 305, 499 r/w 34 of Penal Code, 1860 against the petitioners. The Court took a prima facie view that the impugned order does not require Court’s interference under Section 482 of CrPC, as the deceased child was in communication with the school even up to 15 minutes before his death. Thus, there is proximity with the commission of suicide. Therefore, prima facie, the ingredients of Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860 are met, which would become an offence under Section 305 of Penal Code, 1860.

Background: The petitioners are Principle, Director and Hostel Warden of Karumbaiah Academy for Learning and Sports School; while the respondent-2 is the father of the 15-year-old boy who committed suicide.

The deceased child was a student of Karumbaiah Academy and was studying in 9th standard. As per the school’s averment, the deceased child was a mischievous boy which is why he had to be counselled thrice. On 25-08-2022 a random check was done by the class teacher during which alcohol in a bottle of mineral water was discovered in the boy’s school bag. The deceased child tendered a written apology for the same, however, the school deemed it fit to suspend the child for 21 days as a measure of punishment.

Since school exams were approaching, the parents of the deceased child pleaded before the school to take their son back to the school or else it would jeopardize his career. As per the averments made by the school, it acceded to the request of the boy and his parents to write the exam from the house through a link that would be sent to the boy.

On the scheduled date of the exam, the child sat in front of the computer at the specified time waiting for the link to appear; but the link did not appear. With the time for the exam passing away and the link not appearing, the child got frustrated and anxious and committed suicide on 24-10-2022.

The grieving parents file a private complaint upon which the Magistrate referred the matter for investigation under Section 156(3) of CrPC. After conducting investigations, the Police filed a ‘B’ report, which was rejected by the Magistrate and took cognizance against the petitioners for offences under Sections 305, 499 r/w 34 of Penal Code, 1860.

Contentions: The petitioners contended that the deceased had been a mischievous child and had subverted the rules of the school by bringing alcohol. It was submitted that it is in the normal course of inculcating discipline into the students that measures like suspending a student for a particular period or debarring them from writing the exam are imposed; no fault can be found with the petitioners, as the petitioners have neither instigated nor goaded for the act of the boy and there is no proximity of any incident with the death of the boy.

Per contra, the aggrieved parents argued that petitioners have in fact instigated the boy of tender age of 15 years to commit suicide, as it is not a particular day’s act (the day the boy committed suicide). The boy had been tortured for close to two months. The parents explained in detail that how one other by was apprehended along with their son for carrying alcohol. The school authorities accepted the apology by the other boy, while their deceased son was penalised for the same offence.

The parents also submitted that on the fateful day, they were in communication with one of the petitioners herein. Therefore, they submitted that it is not a case where there is no instigation or proximity to the commission of suicide. The parents also alleged that the Police filed the ‘B’ report favouring the school as they used their money power to prevail over the law enforcement authorities.

Issue: Whether the rejection of Police’s ‘B’ report by the Magistrate and taking cognizance against the petitioners, deserves Court’s intervention under Section 482 CrPC?

Court’s Assessment:

Perusing the facts and contentions raised by the parties, the Court analysed the facts in detail. It was noted that when a mineral water bottle containing traces of alcohol was discovered from the deceased child’s bag, an apology letter was sought from the hands of the boy before communication could even be made to the Principal. The Court also pointed out that the deceased child being unaware of the consequences of the apology letter, appeared to have written whatever was directed and dictated to him. The Court particularly noted a sentence in the apology letter where the deceased wrote “I really apologize I am biggest defaulter in this school”. The Court stated that the apology letter does not inspire any confidence, as a 9th grader would not know the effect of the words “biggest defaulter in the school”.

The Court also pointed out that there existed no written order of suspension for 21 days or any other punishment and the same was conveyed to the deceased orally. This action would have made the deceased child anxious. Perusing the communications between the school and the parents after the alcohol discovery incident, the Court also noted that there was indication that parents were desperately beseeching the school authorities, however the school replied that the child should change school as they will not allow him to come back. Since shifting to a new school would require examinations results, the parents once again reach out to Karumbaiah Academy seeking that their child be allowed to take his exams. The school allows the deceased child to take the exam online via link, which never arrives and as result the child gets anxious and kills himself. The Court was of the view that the link in the chain of events can be noticed; the instigation, abetment and goading all have happened from time to time from 25-08-2022 (discovery of alcohol) till 24-10-2022 (commission of suicide).

Taking note of the psychologist’s report presented by the petitioner, the Court expressed its shock that the report emerged after the death of the boy. The student counsellor who is the staff of the school submits a report. However, the report was not ante dated, it was dated 27-10-2022, 3 days after the death of the boy. The Court pointed out that, “It is rather unfortunate that the school after the death of the boy, use the death of the boy to draw up a report which shows the boy in such poor light, to shift the blame upon the boy. There cannot be any better generation of uncouth attitude on the part of the educational institution”.

Taking note of the events after the commission of suicide i.e., filing of complaint, investigation etc., the Court noted that when the parents first filed a complaint, there was no response as the Police admittedly filed an unnatural death report. The parents waited for 2 months for any action, while Police dodged the issue, and no significant steps were taken until the parents decided to file a private complaint before the Magistrate. Taking note of the aftermath of the Magistrate’s order for investigation, when Police filed its ‘B’ report, the Court pointed out that the ‘B’ report painted the deceased in extremely negative light and contained statements by students who were not involved in the matter in any way. The Court also pointed out that the Magistrate pointed out several lacunae during the investigation and blatant falsehoods generated by the school. The Court pointed out that Magistrate gave cogent reasons for rejecting Police’s ‘B’ report, therefore the same does not warrant interference of the High Court under Section 482, CrPC. “Every submission made by the learned senior counsel on the strength of documents appended to the criminal petition are all generated after the death of the boy, or all are farther from truth. The falsity noted is not in thin air, but on the strength of documents. Therefore, this is not a case where there is neither instigation nor provocation. It is a case which has both, albeit, prima facie.”

The Court thus found that ingredients of Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860 are clearly met in the instant case for it to become an offence under Section 305 of Penal Code, 1860 albeit, prima facie, there is no warrant of interference.

Court’s Observations on School Disciplinary Actions:

Given the issue of the case where a young student lost his life, Justice Nagaprasanna gave some parting observations on need for educational institutions to reassess their methods to discipline a child.

The Court stated that Discipline is of two kinds – positive and negative. Positive discipline would be in the form of motivating the student whereas negative is other way round. “It is in public domain that harsh discipline is closely linked to internalizing mental problems of a child and lowering the child’s cognitive functioning and school performance”.

The Court said that a child maybe a troublemaker, but punitive punishments like suspension from school etc., may not always help such a child to leave these traits. it would only result in fading away all learning habits of the child and great hardship to those families. Therefore, schools must consider a paradigm shift vis-à-vis punishing mischievous students.

The Court said that cases such as instant matter is an illustration of negative self-evaluation and children feeling bad about themselves. The Educational Institutions, therefore, must recognize this malady of over/harsh discipline, remedy the wrong in a different manner, so that the lives of young souls would be saved. “It is not the case of just one student, but even one student. The institutions should also recognize that the age-old principles have now changed, I mean “spare the rod and spoil the child” has metamorphosed into “spare the rod and teach the child”.

[Gauramma v. State of Karnataka, 2023 SCC OnLine Kar 33, decided on 26-06-2023]

*Order by Justice M. Nagaprasanna

Advocates who appeared in this case :

P.P. Hegde, Senior Counsel and Venkatesh Somareddy, Advocate appearing for the Petitioners;

Mahesh Shetty, High Court Government Pleader appearing for respondent No.1 and C. Prashanth Chinnappa, counsel appearing for respondent No. 2.

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