Saturday, May 22, 2010

Remember Aakriti?


Nithin Sridhar


(This is an old article published on 09 June 2009)

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights was set up as a statutory body on 19 November 2007 and is authorised to summon and enforce the attendance of any person from any part of India to examine him/her on oath. Under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, the National Commission has all the powers of a Civil Court while inquiring into matters under the CPC.

Thus the National Commission, while inquiring into a matter, can warrant any document and receive evidence on affidavits from authorities concerned. It has the power to requisition any public record or copy thereof from any court of office. Apart from having the power to forward a case to a Magistrate, the Commission is authorised to issue commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents. What has been the efficacy of this commission?

On 23 April 2009,
The Indian Express reported: “A leading private school in New Delhi faced the wrath of angry parents and fellow students of a girl who died due to an asthma attack in school premises forcing the authorities to order an internal inquiry into the alleged death due to ‘negligence.’ Trouble started when the parents along with fellow students of 17-year-old victim Aakriti Bhatia disrupted a press conference organized by authorities of Modern School, Vasant Vihar, to clarify the stand of the institution on the issue.”

It was reported that Aakriti Bhatia (17), a Class XII student, died on the way to hospital. She had complained of breathlessness to her teacher around 10 am, but was not taken to hospital till 10:40 am. Instead of calling for an ambulance or making arrangements to rush her to hospital, the principal of this rich school waited for Aakriti’s family to send their car. This shows the callousness of Goldie Malhotra, principal of the said school.

Aakriti’s friends say when she first complained of discomfort, the principal did not take the matter seriously and later the nurse said she couldn’t come over to take a look at Aakriti. A close friend of the dead girl said the nurse refused to come down and asked her to come up instead, explaining, “Later, when her condition deteriorated, we forced her (the nurse) to come down. No one in the school was concerned.” This is a typical case of death due to sheer negligence.

Yet this is neither the first nor only case of the premature end of a promising life due to negligence of school authorities. On 18 April 2009, CNN-IBN reported the death of 11-year-old Shanno Khan, allegedly due to corporal punishment meted out at school. Shanno was a second grade student at a Municipal Corporation school in Delhi. She was allegedly beaten by her school teacher on Wednesday, 15 April. The teacher reportedly banged the child’s head against a table before making her stand in the sun for over two hours.

In 2005, Pratik Khanolkar, a nine year old student of Ram Ratan Vidya Mandir at Uttan, drowned in the school swimming pool. In a similar case in 2007, Harekrishna, a six-year-old student, drowned in the swimming pool of Janki Devi School in Versova, due to negligence.

It’s a sorry state of affairs that rather than ascertaining how far schools have been successful in playing their ideal role as temples of learning, aided by gurus who remove ignorance with knowledge, we are forced to discuss whether our children are safe at all when in the custody of their teachers. In the name of discipline, the teachers of this era harass students.

Discipline should be a self-imbibed value, and not imposed by others. In my own schooldays, I was at times punished or saw students being punished because we had soiled the floors with muddy shoes or had not clipped our nails or were late to school or had not done the homework or even simply because we did not perform some exercise the way we were supposed to. The punishment varied from heavy beating on hands and legs to making us stand in the sun or on the backbenches, making us clean the whole school, running many rounds in our school ground.

It is not that students were right in not doing things properly, but as children we were too innocent and did not understand why we were being treated harshly. We neither understood discipline nor needed it. All we needed was love and care and someone to explain everything. But all we got was atrocious treatment.

These punishments did not make us disciplined; they created a fear psychosis in us. One of my classmates was constantly treated so badly and taunted repeatedly for years because of a single mistake he once committed. If today he keeps wrong company, the whole blame lies with our teachers.

For teachers and school establishments, education is no longer a service but a business. They have no responsibility nor any care for children. There was a time when teachers used to mould students' character; today they are only concerned about their salaries. This is clear in Aakriti's case, where principal needed her parents to send their car to take her to hospital.

It’s time for strict action against school authorities for negligence and harassment of students on any pretext. It should be pointed out here that often teachers who expect students to follow certain rules and discipline are themselves not practicing them. That is, they fail to lead by example.

The then Union Minister for Child and Women Development Renuka Chaudhary got away with paying a token visit to the house of the dead girl from a better off family, while she blissfully forgot to show equal courtesy to the family of the poorer girl, Shanno. For her, setting up the NCPCR was in itself a great achievement of her government!

One fails to understand that if the Commission in itself is an achievement, why did it take more than a month after young Aakriti’s death for the Delhi Government’s Directorate of Education to direct the Vasant Vihar branch of Modern School to suspend its nurse and discipline in-charge. The school management has also been directed to appoint a full-time medical officer as per the Delhi School Education Act, 1973. For Aakriti’s family that may be too little, too late.

For the rest of us, vigilance must not end. It is true that the DoE had already sent an advisory to all recognised schools to appoint a full-time or part-time medical officer as per their requirements. Moreover, the Delhi Government decided to issue guidelines pertaining to medical facilities to all aided and unaided schools in the city to deal with any emergency. The guidelines are being prepared in consultation with the Health Department and were to be issued “in a couple of days’ time” as per Delhi Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely, as on 22 May.

It is not clear if this has been done. But no one has discussed Aakriti since – the newspapers, television channels, and public are seized with the continuing ‘racist’ attacks on Indians in Australia, which a section of our inferiority complex ridden intelligentsia and political class is trying to play down, though even the Supreme Court has demanded that government be more pro-active in the defence of Indians abroad! This notorious attitude - of insincere, publicity-conscious candlelight protest and back-to-normal - will prove to be the bane of society someday.

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