Sorry Ryan Pinto, 7-Year-Old Pradyumn is the Victim, Not You!
Ryan International overlooked several clauses of the safety guidelines issued by the Gurgaon Police.
“We ask all parties concerned to refrain from holding Ryan culpable for crime when it itself is a victim of unfortunate circumstances,” the remarks of the CEO of Ryan group, Ryan Pinto, are barely apologetic. Even before expressing his condolences on the murder of seven-year-old Pradhyuman, Ryan Pinto chose to update the cover photo of his official Facebook page, of himself and his mother, Madam Grace Pinto, feeding underprivileged kids.
But was Ryan school in Gurgaon really a victim? Did the school do everything in its capacity to thwart an employee from entering a students’ washroom and allegedly murder a student after attempting to sexually assault him? Was it a tragedy they couldn’t have seen coming? Is it just another unfortunate, yet purely random accident?
Flouting Gurgaon’s Guidelines on Child Safety
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, coldly described, the school is unluckily located in a city with extraordinarily well-drafted guidelines for the safety of school children. They can have no bureaucratic excuse for not knowing what to do.
In 2014, Gurgaon became one of the first cities in India to release a comprehensive document after consultation with parents, educationists, legal and child right activists, psychologists, members of the civil administration and the police, for children’s safety at schools. It was to be indiscriminately enforced at all public, private or aided city schools.
The clause (2.2.5) of the guideline, issued by the Gurgaon Police, clearly states:
...bus drivers and conductors, whether employed by the school or contracted out, access area must be limited to just the bus area, and specific instructions must be given to them on which areas are out of bounds for them.
Even in cases of non-compliance of these guidelines, which is frequent at most schools in India, it is harrowing to imagine that a staff member or for that matter, any visitor, would have had easy access to a students’ washroom.
There should be separate toilets for girls and boys, for teachers, and for support staff. The support staff in particular should not be allowed to use toilets meant for children, even if they are assisting in this section.Clause 4.5.4 of ‘Guidelines for safety of children in schools’
The clause (4.5.5) of the document even states that staff managing toilets can only be female, and that no male staff can be present on school premises in support roles like toilet cleaners/attendants.
CCTV Cameras at Toilet Entrance is Mandatory
The Hindustan Times reported that the same conductor had previously been sacked from a school in Ghamroj for ‘sexually predatory behaviour,’ without a necessary police report. Ryan International did not secure the ‘signed affidavit’ containing information pertaining to the conductor’s character and background, in violation of the Gurugram Police guidelines. It is highly unlikely that any background check was carried out either.
The school was required to present all recruited staff with a copy of the institution’s child protection policy document/code of conduct and get him or her to sign it annually in acceptance. Not only did the school not check the accused's credentials, it also tried to cover its tracks by collecting the Aadhaar card of the conductor on Friday from his house.
The report, in no uncertain terms, explains the utility of CCTV cameras on the campus. “The school must have adequate CCTV coverage. Cameras must cover all critical areas of the premises.”
After the deadly attack on a school in Peshawar, the CBSE issued a Standard Operating Procedure for any event of terrorist attack on schools. Among the many preventive measures, it unambiguously asked all school heads to ensure “installation of CCTV systems all along the boundary as well as some additional locations inside the premises, to monitor the movement of any suspicious person, with recording facilities for the last three days, at least.”
The possibility of a weapon being carried into school premises, the kind with which Pradhyumn was murdered, opens a pandora’s box of horrific possibilities.
Collusion with Police
The CBSE ‘checklist’ for children’s safety is ineffectual. So far no major action for non-compliance has been initiated against any affiliated school in the country, let alone any politically powerful brand like the Ryan or the DPS.
There is reason to suspect that a liquor shop within 50 metres of an education institution couldn’t have existed without the complicity of police. Parents have alleged that their complaints against the same were ignored by the local police station. Alcohol, being a state subject, is governed by state laws and the huge revenues it adds to state coffers makes it immune to political rage.
Public Faith Shattered
Above all, the refusal of school administration to recognise their basic liability has seriously damaged public faith in private school system. It is disappointing that child safety in normal circumstances is usually only a cosmetic concern. While fleecing parents in the name of quality education, the biggies of the ‘education sector’ have repeatedly failed to deliver the promised product.
Like how the word ‘public’ in Delhi Public Schools doesn’t reductively imply that the DPS are accessible to public at large, the ‘international’ in Ryan International Schools is by no measure a testimony to the chain’s safety standards for children. One grave murder at school premises last year wasn’t enough for the group to upgrade its security environment.
(Akshat Tyagi is the author of ‘Naked Emperor of Education’. He tweets at @AshAkshat. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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