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How Safe Are Our Schools?

How Safe Are Our Schools?

Nelson Mandela couldn’t have used a better yardstick than ‘children’s safety’ to measure the greatness of a society. His words, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." are a profound pointer to contemporary India where children in general and school-going kids in particular are callously being eliminated.

In the wake of the recent brutal murder of a seven year old second grader Pradyuman Thakur inside the washroom of Ryan International School in Gurgaon that triggered widespread protest against the gross negligence by school authorities, the stage is set for a rigorous debate on the criminal safety lapses in schools across India. As the case of Pradyuman’s ghastly murder is being probed and the police got busy with a series of arrests and suspensions of those allegedly found responsible for the gruesome crime, red flags of similar avoidable deaths have been raised in different schools in the country.

An upscale G D Goenka Public School in Indirapuram (near Delhi) recently witnessed the tragic death of a 10 year-old Class IV student Arman Sehgal who allegedly slipped on the wet floor of the school's second-floor corridor and fell suffering serious head injuries.  As per Arman’s father Gulshan Sehgal, ‘he dropped off his son to the school at 7.30 am, he was happy and in good health.  Arman’s mother has blamed the school for “complete negligence” for not informing the parents on time but doing so only while taking him to the hospital. She also accused the teachers for cooking up a cock and bull story that ‘Arman fell and urinated on himself’ to wash their hands off for leaving the floor wet.  Hindustan Times reportedly had learnt that a total of 45 CCTV cameras were installed on the school premises and the CCTV camera on the second floor where Arman fell, was not working.

Arman’s parents Swati and Gulshan Sehgal have filed an FIR against the school authorities that Arman was not given medical aid or oxygen at school which could have saved his life. They also stated that three unidentified men barged into the post-mortem house and spoke to doctors while Arman’s autopsy was going on. They also claimed that they were threatened at gunpoint by unidentified men to settle the matter.

The list of atrocious school violence of varied hues in schools across India with impunity is endless. Of our many misconceptions they bust the two main ones: Only girl children are victims of sexual violence and such crimes takes place only in private schools.  Most of the latest cases of sexual violence that have sent shockwaves across India prove that neither young boys are spared from the heinous crime sexual predators who prowl around schools irrespective of ‘public’- ‘private’ tags.

Condemning the latest cases of atrocities on children, the Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi had this to say, I have always encouraged children to go to school, as I believe that every child should receive education. Schools were considered to be the safest place for children. However, in the light of recent atrocities, schools are unfortunately not safe anymore. We have failed in ensuring security for our children."

The governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have sprang on their feet and have ordered a magisterial inquiry into the alleged sexual assaults, planned to chalk out a protocol for all city schools to ensure the safety of students. The education department of Uttar Pradesh has made police verification of the staff, bus drivers and conductors mandatory for the schools in the state capital. "We have issued a circular for police verification of the school staff, bus drivers and conductors as most of the schools did not get the antecedents of the drivers of the school buses, private vans or auto rickshaws ferrying the kids verified," affirmed Mukesh Kumar Singh the District Inspector of Schools (DIoS). The DIoS said drivers and conductors of school vehicles had been barred from using smartphones as on many occasions, they had been found to have shown "objectionable" content to the children.

Of the three main stakeholders of education, namely the government, schools and the parent-society, the onus of student-safety heavily rests on school managements. On no count can the school authorities wash their hands off their gross negligence and indifference towards the safety and wellbeing of their young children entrusted to them by their trusting parents. It is the moral obligation of posh schools like Ryan International, Tagore Public School and G D  Goenka Public School that extract exorbitant fees from the parents to remedy their safety lapses and make their students feel secure inside and around schools. Going by the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’, it’s high time for the schools to shake off their apathy and review their abysmally neglected student-safety mechanisms.

As for most students their school is ‘a home away from home’, creating a safe and conducive school environment is the paramount duty of every school management. Ensuring student-safety demands that no nook and corner of the school premises should be left outside the watchful supervision of the school management. Assign house-keeping staff   to help out children to toilets. Provide separate washrooms for students, staff, supporting staff and those associated with school under various capacities of service.  Make the interiors of the schools and its premises ‘strictly prohibited areas’ to outsiders without an entry permit issued after necessary checking.  Revamp the school-inspection system in all schools across India and see to it that the basic infrastructure and safety protocol is put in place for the benefit of students and staff. Add more teeth to the ‘parents association’ of schools giving them the status of an Advisory Body that assist the school administration and actively collaborate with the smooth and safe running of the school.

Children are the future of the nation. India cannot afford to remain a ‘no country for her children’ and ignore them as children of a lesser God. Human resource development is basic to the economic, scientific and technological development of a county. It’s sheer foolishness to buy into a development- spree that lacks a human face but focuses on skyscrapers, high rising GDP and ‘acche din’ only for certain section of the people. Teachers are the least paid and respected assets in India. In many a rural public school the teacher-students ratio is 90:1. Absentee teachers are commonplace in rural public schools, some of which lacks basic infrastructure.  Time is overdue for an overhauling of education in India not only in terms of safety mechanism in all schools but also of the abysmal picture of public schools where crimes go unreported or at best swept under rugs.

Unless the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Education Departments and school managements make a concerted effort in making schools in India temples of life-oriented learning rooted in moral and ethical principles, discipline and self-restraints where the young students are safe from sexual predators and criminals, the country’s children will remain an endangered lot in a dangerous land. 

And can the ‘incredible India’, the ‘new India’ galloping towards the title of a ‘super power’ afford to remain a dangerous land where her children are in danger?

(Published on 18th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 38)