Kerala has a unique reputation for being a secular state, a bastion of free thought, tolerance and secularism.
It has also had its share of controversies, particularly regarding the cult of Hindu god Satchi and his followers.
The controversy over the Satchidarananda Ashram, the ashram in Kochi which has been in operation since the 1980s, comes in the backdrop of the recent incident involving a 14-year-old girl.
On January 26, the girl’s mother, Sivakumari, filed a complaint with the Kerala Police against the school, claiming that her daughter had been bullied by some of her students, including a teacher.
In her complaint, Siyu Thadani, a resident of Kochi, claimed that the girl was being abused and harassed.
According to Thadni, when the girl complained to the school authorities, she was told that she had “abused the trust of her parents”.
However, Thadnik had denied this and claimed that “there was no harassment and no bullying”.
The complaint was then sent to the Kerala High Court, which ordered the administration to “exercise utmost restraint” in dealing with the matter.
Following the complaint, the district education officer, K.N. Sharma, on January 27, took action against the headmaster of the school.
The administration said that a “security probe” was being carried out.
The Kerala Government has, however, defended the school and its operations.
In a statement to The Hindu, a spokesperson for the State Government said that “the issue of the security probe was not investigated and the security inquiry was carried out by the District Education Officer”.
The spokesperson added that “Kerala Police are conducting their own probe into the matter”.
In another incident, a video clip of an alleged gang rape on a bus in Kochilipally, in which a passenger was seen being gang-raped by at least four persons, led to the suspension of the Ashram.
In a Facebook post, the Ashrams Kerala chapter, along with the local administration, said that the “scandal was not reported to the police in Kochiyal and it was investigated in a private hospital.”
In another case, a school employee was arrested on January 29, after an FIR was registered against him for allegedly abusing a 15-year old girl.
The woman in question was allegedly assaulted and verbally abused by the student who allegedly worked as a cleaner at the Ashrama, on the pretext of cleaning the ashrams.
According to the FIR, the woman’s mother filed a case with the police alleging that her son was abused by a few of his students, and that the student had also been bullied.
The police had on January 31 filed an FIR, which was later taken up by the State Education Officer.
In its statement to the High Court on January 28, the Kerala State Government has again defended the Asharams operations, saying that “an investigation was carried into the incident and there was no abuse and bullying”.
In a subsequent statement, the State Educational Officer has said that no charges have been registered against the woman and that a probe is underway.
The school is the only one in Kochikulipally to have a dedicated ashram, but it has faced criticism in the past for not being an active ashram.
In 2011, a Kerala government court ordered the ashrama to close down for safety reasons, saying it was not an ashram and the premises were too small to accommodate students.
The school then changed its name to Sankalakas, in honour of the legendary saint Sankaracharya, a disciple of Lord Shiva.
The ashram was later closed down in 2015.