Videos and photos were shared on WhatsApp and other social media last week showing the principal of a tribal school in the city of Nellore brutally beating Yanadi students. A number of news outlets in India quickly reported the story, the most complete of which were in The News Minute and The New Indian Express.

A tribal school in Gujarat, India
A tribal school in Gujarat, India (Photo by Nsdesai in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Venkata Ramana has been principal of the Tribal Welfare Boys Residential School in Dargamitta, a section of Nellore city, for four years. When he began making a habit of beating the boys—mercilessly—other staff members in the school recorded his beatings. They  reported the brutality to a tribal rights organization, Yanadi Samakya, which then shared the videos and photos of the abuse with the police.

Gandala Sreeramulu, the district president of Yanadi Samakya, said that the principal has been beating the students for minor infractions, even removing their clothes and beating their legs. He added that when parents came into the school to ask about the abuse, the principal scolded them right in front of their children. “The students are in the grip of fear and some of them are even planning to leave the school, unable to bear the principal’s harsh treatment,’’ Sreeramalu told the police.

“The horrific visuals show how inhumanly he was punishing them instead of disciplining them,” Sreeramalu added. He said that the police should take stern action to discipline the abuser. As of Thursday last week, the news reports had not indicated if an arrest had yet been made. A police inspector told one of the reporters that an investigation was underway. Students were being asked to give statements to police and Child Welfare Department officials.

Some Yanadi kids
Some Yanadi kids (Photo by Only the Best on and copyrighted, but released for all uses without reservation)

According to the news stories, all the students in the school come from tribal communities, though whether they are all Yanadis was not made clear. They are typically the first members of their families to attend school. They never anticipated what they would have to go through. One photo shows Venkata Ramana holding a boy by the head and bashing him, head first, into a stone pillar, with other students standing in the background watching.

Other photos and videos are just as grim. One photo shows him beating a student who is laying on the floor. In another, a boy is shown pulling down his pants in preparation for a beating. Another captures him grabbing a boy by the hair. The videos evidently show him beating two students with a stick. Another clip shows him kicking a boy.

The students claim that the abuse by the principal began over a year ago. They had reported the violence to officials eight months ago but nothing appears to have been done about it.

The Yanadis by V. Raghaviah (1962)
The Yanadis by V. Raghaviah (1962)

The only bright perspective on this story is to reflect on the reaction that the Yanadi used to have with people who physically abused them. According to one of the classic ethnographies of the society, The Yanadis by V. Raghaviah, they simply didn’t know how to confront real, physical abuse from outside authority figures. Raghaviah writes in his 1962 book, p. 218, “It is only when his assailant is brutal and inflicts physical pain, that the unfailing smile [of the Yanadi individual] is replaced by a frown which precludes and indicates more a realization of his utter helplessness than a desire or readiness to retaliate.”

At least the Yanadi no longer take the abuse helplessly as they did more than 50 years ago. Now the students complain and the adults are willing to confront authority figures.