Sad how the murder of Class 2 Ryan International School student got politicised

The illusion that schools are a safe space for children seems to have shattered with the brutal killing of Class 2 student.

 |  7-minute read |   10-09-2017
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For thousands of children in Gurgaon, going to school has suddenly become not only stomach-turning but highly traumatic too. The illusion that schools are a safe space for children seems to have shattered with the brutal murder of a seven-year-old at Gurgaon’s Ryan International School.

The Class 2 student's body was found lying in a pool of blood in the school washroom on Friday, September 7 – his throat was slit with a knife found near his body.

According to reports, the boy had reached his school around 8.15am, and by 8.45am the authorities had to call his father to inform him about the death.

The Gurgaon Police, on the same night, arrested Ashok Kumar, the 42-year-old school bus conductor for the murder. According to the authorities, the bus conductor allegedly tried to sexually assault the child in the school bathroom, and murdered the seven-year-old after he resisted. The medical team that conducted the post-mortem examination said the victim’s throat was slit twice.

rya_091017085455.jpgAccording to Pradyumna’s father, “Police should take action against the school management for negligence.”

Hindustan Times report claims police sources close to the investigation said the medical team denied sexual abuse. 

“The victim after being stabbed struggled and crawled taking help of the walls outside the toilet when a fellow student and the school gardener noticed him in a pool of blood,” Ashok Bakshi, the deputy commissioner of police in south Gurgaon said.

School to blame?

According to Pradyumna’s father, “Police should take action against the school management for negligence.”

"The school could not even ensure basic safety for my son, how will then parents send children to school?" Pradyumna’s mother Jyoti told ANI.

"My son did not even know the bus conductor as he never travelled in bus, we used to drop him and pick him."

The Haryana government too, said on September 10, that it was not averse to recommending a CBI probe into the killing and has asked the Gurgaon Police to book the school owner under the juvenile justice law.

Haryana education minister Ram Bilas Sharma alleged that there have been lapses on part of the school administration, saying, “We accept negligence on part of the Ryan International School, but the school cannot be derecognised as the future of 1,200 students is at stake.” 

“We have directed the Gurgaon Police to book the owner of Ryan International School, Albert Pinto, under section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Punishment) Act, 2015, for cruelty to a child meted out by the custodian, in the chargesheet to be submitted in the court within seven days,” he added.

The school has released a statement that reads: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident that occurred in our school today, involving a Class 2 student. He had suffered critical injuries and was immediately rushed to the hospital by the school head Neerja Batra. Despite all attempts, unfortunately his life couldn’t be saved due to the extent of his injuries... The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be dealt with appropriate action.”

A system of negligence

Accoring to this Firstpost report, there have been incidents of negligence on the school’s part in the past as well. In January, 2016, Devansh Kakrora, a six-year-old student, died after he allegedly fell into a water tank in the Vasant Kunj branch of Ryan International School. 

Despite the Delhi Police recording the death under Section 304(a) of the Indian Penal Code – death by negligence – his parents alleged that it was a pre-meditated murder, and his father RH Meena is still fighting a case in the Delhi High Court, demanding a CBI probe into his son's death.

A magisterial inquiry into Devansh's death, however, tells a different story. "The magisterial probe into Devansh's death indicates a "heinous crime" and the investigations so far have "ignored" the observations of the child's parents," the Delhi government said.

"The so-called prestigious schools in Delhi NCR charge Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000 a month as fees per student. Parents pay this money with a hope that expensive education would bring about better future for students. However, it is painful to see some of them carrying home the dead bodies of their children," Ashok Agarwal, president of All India Parents' Association, told Firstpost.

Additionally, according to a Mail Today report,  RTI documents, filed by activist Harinder Dhingra show that the Gurugram Regional Transport Authority (RTA) has no record of whether buses of private schools, often owned by influential people, were inspected for their fitness to ply, or if credentials of the drivers and conductors were verified. 

Schools are required to fill inspection form for buses. “These forms are to be compiled in the school itself. There is no such record available with the office," the reply said in response to a query regarding the state of compliance of school buses as per “Surakshit School Vahan Policy”, which was formed based on directions from the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2013.

The apathy of the transport authority was further underscored by the fact that on the last hearing on July 27 of the RTI plea, which is on with the state information commission (SIC) in Chandigarh, no one from the department appeared in front of the commission and that too without notifying the body.

"The Commission has adjourned the above said case for hearing to 20.09.2017 at 11.00am as neither the respondents have put in appearance nor filed any written replies," the SIC order of July 27 said.

Child sexual abuse in India

According to a recent survey conducted by World Vision India – a humanitarian organisation – one in every two children is a victim of child sexual abuse. Can you imagine that - 50 per cent of children are molested or sexually abused? 

The survey, participated in by more than 45,000 children in the 12-18 age group, across 26 states in the country, also revealed that one in four families do not come forward to report child abuse.

“With 98 per cent of rapes being committed by people known to the children, I feel it is time that we all come under one banner to focus our work around child protection,” said Cherian Thomas, national director of World Vision India.

According to NCRB records, as many as 89,423 cases of crime against children were reported in 2014. The number increased to 94,172 in 2015 and 1,05,785 in 2016. Uttar Pradesh reported the maximum number of crimes against children in 2016. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of crimes against children under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA) went up from 8,904 to 35,980 – a four-fold increase in just two years. 

Politicisation and communalisation

While nothing could be more heinous than a child's murder, Pradyumna’s killing is already being used to spread bigotry. Shefali Vaidya, a right-wing political commentator and a columnist for Swarajya magazine, took no time to add a communal twist to a child’s murder. She tweeted, “Second death in Jesus-loving school where students sing in 'praise of the lord'. If this had happened in a Hindu run school, imagine the outrage!"

Of course, Vaidya’s memory must not have served her well in this occasion, because a report in The Wire.in pointed out that Ryan International is the same school that started a “voluntary” BJP membership drive in 2015.

In fact, the school allegedly held back the salary of teachers who resisted joining the party

“Every staff member, from the school gardener to senior teachers, was asked to get 10 members. BJP membership forms were distributed and the party’s toll-free number was sent through WhatsApp,” a Ryan staff member has told The Times of India

For those of us who live in a "New India", the banality of such communally divisive remarks by right-wing Hindu groups are something we have long since adjusted to. If only they had the decency not to use the gruesome murder of a seven-year-old for political propaganda.

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