Discrimination case against St. Teresa’s College hostel drags on

Fifteen years after registering the case, justice still eludes the SC/ST inmates of the St. Teresa’s College hostel, who were reportedly discriminated against on caste grounds.

The case is still lagging in court and till now, only the examination of eight witnesses, including some inmates of the college hostel has been completed.

Though the city police had registered a crime in 2000 in this regard, the trial of the case began at the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court 2 only in 2009. The then college principal Sr. Tessa was arraigned as the first accused in the case. The then hostel warden who died subsequently and Teresa David, the former head accountant of the college were listed as the second and third accused respectively in the case.

The 12 Dalit students who stayed in the college hostel in 1999 were reportedly discriminated against. There were also reports that the SC/ST students were insulted by the college staff when they went to collect their grant from the college office.

The FIR registered by the Kochi city police in 2000 states that the college principal, hostel warden and head accounts officer discriminated the SC/ST inmates of the hostel by housing them together in a dormitory. The case documents accessed by The Hindu said that though there were vacant rooms in the college hostel, those rooms were not allotted to the SC/ST students, who were forced to stay in the dormitory.

Gireesh Panju, the assistant public prosecutor, Ernakulam, who is pursuing the case, said summons will be issued to seven other witnesses in the case.

The authorities have booked the case invoking the Section 5 (a) and (b) of the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act, 1955.

The Section 5 of the Act deals with the “punishment for refusing to admit persons to hospitals, etc.” According to the act, “whoever, on the ground of untouchability, refuses admission to any person to any hospital, dispensary, educational institution or any hostels, if such hospital, dispensary, educational institution or hostel is established or maintained for the benefit of the general public or any section thereof; or does any act which discriminates against any such person after admission to any of the aforesaid institutions,” shall be punished.

The law prescribes an “imprisonment for a term of not less than one month and not more than six months and also with fine which shall be not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees” for those found guilty in the case.

Sr. Vinitha, director of the college, said students were never discriminated in the college or its hostel. Earlier, there was dormitory system in the hostel, but it was demolished after renovation. The number of hostel inmates has also come down, said Sr. Vinitha, who had also served as the hostel warden earlier.