Two Punjab students harassed at home find refuge with their principal
By Vikas Kahol
The Indian Express, August 7, 2003
For this principal, parenting begins at his home

(INDIA) Kharar, August 6: When 13-year-old Sarabjit Kaur and her eight-year-old brother, Kashmir Singh, started skipping school and dozing off in class, Preet Ranjan Kaur, their teacher at Indian Public School, became concerned.

When she found that the siblings were not getting tiffin to school and had not paid the fee for four months, her concern grew. The teacher decided to check. She was told that the children were being beaten up and sometimes starved by their stepmother.

Determined to get the children out of the hell, Preet Ranjan took the case to school principal C S Cheema. The 70-year-old retired Army officer approached the sub-divisional magistrate of Kharar. The SDM called the parents, the father admitted that everything was not fine at home and did not object when the SDM suggested the children should be moved out.

Where would they go? They did not want to move to a hostel as they did not want to stay separately. So, the principal decided to bring them home. On Monday evening, Sarabjit and Kashmir packed their bags and moved to the house of the principal.

‘‘These two are like our grandchildren,’’ says the principal. ‘‘They are very well-mannered, it’ll be nice having them with us,’’ adds his wife, a homemaker. The Cheemas have two sons, both colonels in the Indian Army, and a daughter, a practising doctor.

‘‘The children did not want to return to their home (in Sahuran village),’’ says Cheema. ‘‘The children were admitted to my school about three years ago, when their biological mother was alive,’’ recalls Cheema. ‘‘A year after her death, her husband ASI Jarnail Singh of Punjab Police re-married and the nightmare began,’’ he adds.

‘‘Our stepmother (Harmeet Kaur) was fine with us in the beginning, but later started scolding and ill-treating us,’’ says Sarabjit. ‘‘Things got worse after our stepbrother was born. I was forced to look after the baby who is now seven months old and would stay awake till late in the night,’’ says Sarabjit. ‘‘Papa loves us, but he is helpless,’’ she says.

‘‘The other day, Sarabjit opened her notebook and pointed to the hair she had carefully preseved. This was a sign of the torture she was being subjected to,’’ says Cheema. ‘‘I told their stepmother not to harass them. I even filed a complaint with the Punjab State Human Rights Commission and also apprised the local authorities,’’ he says.

‘‘On Monday, both the children and their father deposed before the SDM and stated it was in the children’s welfare that they stay with the principal,’’ adds Cheema.

SDM Kharar S S Gill confirms that the principal has been given custody of the children. ‘‘Their father admitted under oath that the children were being maltreated. Sahuran Nambardar Sarup Singh too confimed this. The father has promised to pay Rs 2,500 a month for the children,’’ says the SDM who has sought legal opinion to take action against Harneet Kaur.

How long will they stay with him? The principal said he’d received a call from the children’s aunt, who lives in Canada, saying that she is willing to take care of them.

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