How safe are our schools?
After the gruesome murder of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur at Ryan International School, Gurugram, and the alleged rape of a young girl at Tagore Public School Delhi, it has once again been clear that the so-called 'International' and 'Public' schools of the National Capital Region have repeatedly failed to meet even the 'local' safety norms issued by the police. Involved only in a well-drafted business of money-minting, the schools like Ryan and Tagore appear to show little concern towards the safety of their students; these schools seem to have no time to think about the conduct and accountability of the school management. But, what is even more unfortunate is that when parents seeking accountability of the school management protested in front of the school gate, the 'neta-babu licence-permit raj' enjoying Pinto (the founder of Ryan schools) targeted them with a lathi-charge, engendering support from the Haryana Police. These incidents of students' murders will not recede soon from public memory. If the governments of the different states are seriously inclined to ensure the safety of the children across the country, the regulation of private schools must change from a lackadaisical-cosy deal between politicians and school managements to one that prioritises child safety as a matter of obligation. Further, before licensing the private schools – they must be asked to give in writing to the competent authorities that in case of violation of security and safety norms, stern legal actions will be taken against them. Surprisingly, in Pradyuman's case, the bus conductor – who allegedly murdered him – used the same washroom as the students. Though the Gurgaon Police's Guidelines for Safety of Children in Schools, clearly indicated that for bus drivers and conductors, access area must be limited to just the bus bay. Ryan International has no answer to explain under which circumstances the school management permitted the alleged murderer to bring a knife into the school premises. However, right from the anxious parents to the local people, everyone believes that the bus conductor is being used as a scapegoat – to save the real culprit in this case. Even the DCP had said that the accused driver had no criminal record. One can imagine the inspection system of these schools, being run by 'political skills' of people like the 'Pintos' and 'Singhs'. Parents' associations are ultimately toothless bodies in these schools. Since the high-quality and modestly priced English medium schools help the politicians win public support and approval in their respective constituencies, the effective institutionalised corrective mechanisms could not be regulated against the erring schools and a safe learning environment continued to elude the country's schoolchildren. And, when something 'mysterious' happens in these brand-conscious private schools, the authorities try to cover it up with face-saving illogical excuses. One can understand the insensitive attitude of Ryan School authorities, as when parents were demonstrating against the school's lapses, refuting people's charges – the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the school, Ryan Pinto, posted a video message calling the school 'a victim of unfortunate circumstances'. In the video, Pinto had requested everyone against holding the school culpable of a crime and dared that neither he nor his school would succumb to the various 'false' allegations. Contrary to Pinto's claims, the report of a three-member committee – supervised by the district education officer – revealed that there were blatant security violations of Gurugram Police's Security Guidelines, 2014, at Ryan International. Meanwhile, irked with the administration's dilly-dallying approach in the investigation of his son's murder case, Pradyuman's father Varun Thakur had moved the Supreme Court on an urgent basis seeking an independent CBI enquiry. Taking cognizance of it, the Apex Court Bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud, issued a notice to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Haryana government, the Haryana DGP, the CBI and CBSE asking them to respond within three weeks. "This concerns the safety of all children across the country. We will not restrict this hearing to just one school. The hearing and the decision will have countrywide repercussions," the Chief Justice observed. Time has come that the government should toughen its stance against private schools. The school management must be prosecuted with maximum severity in case of security errors. As the Supreme Court has taken the cognizance of this matter, one can hope for some deterring effect. The fear of law must be deeply indoctrinated as the schools preclude the need to take the safety of children seriously. If the Apex Court observes something, it means that the private schools would no longer give a slip to authorities and subsequent crimes may eventually be averted.