College students made to remove graffiti with acid

Management appeals to upset parents not to file complaint

Your college authorities may ask you to clean the marks with acid, just like the St Francis Junior College for Women in Secunderabad did on Tuesday.

At least a dozen of the 50 students in the first year Intermediate arts section of the prestigious college were forced to clean the defaced tables and walls of their classroom with nitric acid. And if that was not enough, they were not even given first aid or allowed to go home till the end of the day. Their parents came to know about the incident only in the evening.

A student seeking anonymity said their principal Dr Laila Mary Francis, who was furious about the graffiti on the walls, ordered the punishment. The college authorities confessed to the crime to the protesting women’s groups on Wednesday but are not ready to apologise on the acid issue. “We only gave laboratory-grade nitric acid instead of cleaning acid,” they said, adding a regular cleaning acid would not have served the purpose.

In all, two to three bottles of nitric acid from the college laboratory were provided to the students to clean up the mess within two hours. Instead of rags and towels, they were provided small pieces of old curtains. “If any one refuses, they will not get attendance for a week and face consequences before the final quarter internals,” the principal is said to have threatened.

Some students said they were reluctant to get to work, as “I have never cleaned even my bed at home, but the principal wanted me to clean the table and walls,” said Anita, 18. Their major worry was also not the load of work or the marks on their hand of the labour, but that they had to forgo the noon show of Harry Potter’s latest flick, as all the public glare they were in marred their chances of bunking classes.

As the students were gathering up their reluctant spirits to clean up the classes, a bottle of acid turned and the acid in it spilled out, causing fumes. Panic struck among some girls, while others complained of breathing problems.

First -year arts student, Pranita and Gomati, received burns on their arms and feet and were reportedly admitted to a nearby private hospital. They were declared out of danger after treatment.

The parents were upset because the management did not allow the students to inform anyone till evening though the incident occurred at 10 am. The matter came to be known only when the students returned home with burnt fingers and hands.

The college management that is part of the St. Mary’s church is negotiating with parents for a compromise. “They have appealed to us to not complaint either to police or the college board,” said Bharati Menon, a parent. Father Swarna Bernard, administrator of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, however, denied that the church was working out a comprise.

Principal Laila, who has been a teacher for 22 years and has even received the ‘Best Principal Award’ in 2001 from Andhra Pradesh Minorities Education Institution Society said only five to six girls had sustained burns. She said, “We are enquiring into the incident. It happened by mistake and we will initiate action against those responsible.”

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