Chandigarh’s MeToo: Former St Stephen’s student Sanjay Austa accuses then school principal Harold Carver of sexual harassment

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Harold Carver

He asked me, “Who do you think of when you masturbate?.”   And when I did not respond, he graciously told me to “take your time”. I squirmed, but he helpfully gave options of Bollywood heroines of those times

The Hush Post | 3:05 am | 5-minute-read

sanjayausta
Sanjay Austa

#MeToo has reached Chandigarh too. A former male student of St Stephen’s school Chandigarh has accused the former Principal & Founder Director of the school Harold Carver of sexual harassment.

The victim happens to be Sanjay Austa from Shimla. Austa migrated from Bishop Cotton School, Shimla to St Stephen’s, Chandigarh in 1989.

He has written a detailed 1000-word Facebook post against Harold Carver accusing how he would ask male students inappropriate questions about sex and ask them to be true while answering and then use that knowledge to blackmail them. He tried the same with Sanjay but failed.

Austa, 43, is a journalist who worked with Mid-Day, Mumbai. Now, he is an eco-tourism entrepreneur. He was a student at the St Stephen’s in Class 9th and 10th in the year 1989 and 1990.

While, The Hush Post could not reach Carver despite repeated attempts, in a statement to a newspaper, he said that he had won all such cases legally and that there was nothing in it. However, Austa reacted to it saying that he won the cases because he was up against 12-year-olds.

Here is his account from his website Sanjayausta.com and his Facebook account detailing out how he narrowly escaped Harold Carver’s advances. Also how he was manipulated to say things in favour of Carver in case there was an inquiry.

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For some reason, all the schools that we did the rounds of for admissions in Chandigarh had disinterested Principals with really large bellies and turbans.  And they all spoke in Punjabi.

Harold Carver
Harold Carver

So when Mr Harold Carver, Principal St Stephen’s School, Chandigarh -head cocked, slick coiffured hair- welcomed us in his clipped English, right at the School gate, we were bowled over.  But, he was as chuffed that a Bishop Cotton Shimla (BCS) student was joining his school.   St. Stephen’s Chandigarh, was then a hole-in-the-wall institute compared to BCS and to what it is today. It functioned from one residential building in Sec 8 with not even a playground.

But Carver was the best teacher by far. Miles ahead, of any teacher we had in BCS.  He taught us English in English, unlike our South Indian teachers in BCS, whose legacy most Cottonian’s carry to this day in their stilted English.  Thanks to Carver some of us can quote verbatim from Shakespeare, Blake or Frost.

But my less than a year into the school, during the summer break, the news exploded on the front pages of all national dailies. Harold Carver was arrested on charges of child abuse.  Five-six students, all my hostel mates, accused him of sexually abusing them.

The chest-beating, hair-tearing scenes that the students, teachers, and the parents enacted vouching for Carver’s innocence, were scenes. Harold Carver was not just a great teacher. For us, he was a Guru. A Godman. A Mentor. A Father figure. A man we looked up to. A man who could do no wrong.

We branded our hostel mates, shameless liars. In a written statement to the police, the rest of us hostellers confirmed that our Principal was innocent.

Looking back, one has to hand it to those boys. The whole world was railed against them. But they went to court with the allegations. However, they could not sustain the vicious grilling by Mr Carver’s fat-cat lawyers. I remember them narrating the prurient line of questioning they were subjected to both inside and outside the court. How they wreathed in shame and could not describe the sexual abuse Carver subjected them to with their parents looking on.  In the end, these boys, along with their parents, decided it was best to throw in the towel. They withdrew their charges.  Shamed, humiliated and disparaged, they dropped out of school and disappeared.

Mr Carver was released and promptly reinstated with honours. We rejoiced to have him back. And he held forth once again in the school assembly as if nothing had happened.

Even as we exulted his reinstatement, we did not realise that we hostellers were the collateral damage. The hostel -run by Carver- shut down. Over nine of us hostellers were bundled into a ten by twelve room in Mr Stanley’s hostel in Sector 38.  We slept on the floor of that tiny room like daily wage labourers, our trunks out in the courtyard where we dressed for school. Keeping us company in that hostel were bus drivers and cooks with whom we shared the toilet.

The hostellers, a tiny minority in this school, had until then been the brightest, excelling both in academics and sports.  But now our grades plummeted drastically and many including me lost a precious year.

When my father got to know about the hostel’s condition, he immediately had me removed. And whom did we go to for advise on where I could possibly stay? Of course, to our beloved Carver sir.

I remember it was after school.  Carver expressed deep concern, his big forehead always full of deep undulating creases, creased up all the more. He promised to get me a good hostel.  In the middle of phone calls to one of his contacts, he told my father to stay in the office. Meanwhile, he led me to a classroom where he made me sit across from him.

And then looking me straight in the eyes, and with my father in the next room, he asked, “Son, tell me truthfully. Do you masturbate?.”

I was flabbergasted.  But then as a 15-year-old, I thought if this great man is asking me this question it must somehow be relevant.  This was the pre-Google era when any knowledge of sex came through gossip and seniors.  The greatest nugget of wisdom handed down to us in BCS was that one-drop of semen equals 19 drops of blood!

I nodded as if admitting to a great felony.  He shot me a Sunday School Teacher’s look, making me guilty. Perhaps he just wanted to ensure if I knew anything about desire.

I got the hostel. Mr Carver, we thought, maybe rightly so, could get anything he wanted. I remember how when we made the trip to the Bruce Springsteen concert in Delhi and were stranded outside the Jawaharlal Nehru  Stadium without tickets, Carver made some calls and we were in.  (Or maybe this is mythmaking. Maybe we had the tickets all along and were a bit late and all that the guards needed was just a little bit of cajoling.)

Then, one day, over a week or so after the, “Do you masturbate”, question, Mr Carver called me to the office. Sitting there in his copious Principal’s chair, and me standing in front of him for what seemed like eternity, he tried to browbeat me into the idea that sex with him would change my life.

He asked me, “Who do you think of when you masturbate?.”   And when I did not respond, he graciously told me to “take your time”. I squirmed, but he helpfully gave options. “Sridevi?, Rekha?, Madhuri ?” he prodded.

I thought what would be worse. Barging out of his office or answering his questions.

Then he gave a long spiel about how kissing and petting by him was not a sin. He tried inducements. He said he would appoint me the school captain. And that he was already thinking on those lines.

Not the one to give up, he tried hypothesising.  “Imagine you are on an uninhabited island with a friend and he tries to kiss you, what would you do?”, he asked.  I thought, I finally found an opening to stave him off. “I would punch him”, I said.

“What if I tried to kiss you”, he said. “I’ll do the same”, I blurted, but am very sure it must have been incoherent and almost under my breath what with my heart pounding in fear, anger and confusion.

He then flailed his arms about as if I had actually punched him and told me that he would be in his office after school that day and I should come there if I wanted to see my life changed. “After 10 years you will realise this opportunity I am giving you”.  he said.

The first thing I did when I got out of the office was tell my hostel mates. I wanted to form the words that were ringing in my head. “Mr Carver, our Principal made a pass at me”.

Word got around and one day Mr Parveen (name changed)- I think the vice-Principal at that time- called me out of my class and made me sit in a Maruti 800, driving which was another large-turbaned, large-bellied man.

It was a short drive to Sukhna Lake from School, where they parked the car and asked me if the rumours they were hearing were true. I said yes they were.

“Bh****hod,” the large turbaned man exclaimed looking at Mr Parveen. “The bastard is back to his old tricks”, he said in Punjabi.

A week or so after the revelation, Mr Carver stopped coming to the school. And a month or so after his absence there was a commotion at the school. Some teachers demanded the management why they were keeping Carver from school. All classes were suspended that day.

Few days after this hullabaloo, Mr Parveen came to my hostel. I remember that day clearly. I was reading. It was not unusual for children to read those days. He sat me in his car and drove to his house in Sector-11. He said that the  “Mr Carver issue’’ has been taken care of. He promised he won’t be teaching in the school anymore. But he said there is someone at his house right now. Could I please deny to him whatever transpired between me and Carver?

Mr Parveen produced me in front of this man. A turbaned man, but without a large belly this time. Mr Carver sat head down next to him. The turbaned man asked me “ Don’t be scared, please tell us if the rumours we are hearing are true?”.

“No Sir. They are untrue,” I said.

“Well there is nothing more to it”, he said. We have heard it from the horse’s mouth”.

Mr Carver did not come to the school for the short duration I was in that School. But I learnt several years ago that no sooner I left the school, he was back at the helm.

Personally what troubles me more is not so much that this Principal made a pass at me. But that I was made to lie.  First, unknowingly where I along with other schoolmates vouched for his innocence. The second, knowingly, in the conspiracy, hatched by Mr Carver and his henchmen to save his skin. Ever since I learnt he is back at the School, it has worried me. How many children would he have abused in his long career in the school? How many like me who knew he was a raving paedophile, were silenced?  How many kids could not walk out of his office the way I did that day?

The fact was, Mr Carver was indispensable to the school and he has indeed made St Stephen’s one of the best school’s in Chandigarh gathering awards for himself along the way. Ironically, among them, he has won the Derozio Award “for exemplary service to school education and human enrichment”, in 2002. And a Lifetime Achievement award for “his dedication in the field of education “ in 2007.

Today Mr Harold Carver is the Founder Director of St. Stephen School Chandigarh commanding cultist status among past and present students, teachers and parents.  On the school website he is described as “a living legend’. He, today commands far more power, respect and perhaps far more access to children. The school has a hostel today called ‘Carver’s Hostel’- named ironically after a man whose victims were precisely hostellers, living far away from their parents and help.

Long paeans to him in the media do not hint at his ignominious past when he was arrested for child abuse. Everything has been collectively forgotten or systematically erased.

Forgotten too are those gutsy boys who without a movement like ME TOO to bolster their voice, showed exemplary courage and named this powerful conniving man as a serial child-abuser and tried unsuccessfully to get justice.

 

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