18th January 2005 was Tuesday. It was the Arabic period for thatched-roof classes at the Government High School in Kandala, a village 20 km south-east of Thiruvananthapuram. Within minutes of class, al-Amin S., sitting on a front bench, was patted on the back by his best friend. As he turned to ask him why he hit, the enraged teacher Sherifa Shajahan threw the pen in her hand at al-Amin. The nib went into his left eye, and despite three surgeries in a year, the eye could not be saved.
More than 16 years after the incident, which sparked state-wide protests against the teacher and on September 30, the Additional District and Sessions Court (POCSO) in Thiruvananthapuram found him guilty of “voluntarily causing grievous hurt”, the sentence was handed down. He was directed to be imprisoned for one year and pay a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to Al-Amin. The judge said that “society would never expect such an act from a teacher”.
Al-Amin, now 25, says no compensation is enough for him. As light rain floods their tiny house in Kamandala, he says: “The verdict was against her because she was guilty. God did it. But how does it help me? One side of me is still dark… Financial compensation does nothing for me.”
Al-Amin claims that the sheriff, who lives 500 meters from her home, never came to interrogate her in all these years. Sherifa could not be reached for comment. Almost none of the teachers working in the school at that time now work there.
Recalling that morning, he says, the sheriff kept insisting that nothing had happened, even when a teacher in an adjacent class rushed to hear her scream.
His mother, Sumayya Biwi (43), says that when she went to school when she was alert, a teacher told her that Al-Amin only had “minor injuries”.
Special Public Prosecutor Ajit Prasad JK said that all the key witnesses, the school teachers, turned hostile during the trial. “From the very beginning, there were attempts by the teachers to dilute the matter,” Prasad said.
Al-Amin says that the incident shattered his confidence, and he could never concentrate on his studies after that. After studying till 10th standard in the same school, he completed his schooling from another institute and then joined a textile technology course in a polytechnic, but eventually dropped out. He says the disability also prevented him from staying on the job.
Once upon a time, he dreamed of joining the police, al-Amin says. “I should take care of my family, but instead, they are forced to take care of me. I appeal to the government to help me get a job.”