There was outrage across the nation on Monday as news filtered out that Punita Mistri, a 10-year-old Visva-Bharati student, was forced by her hostel warden to drink her own urine — as punishment for bed-wetting.
The office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also Visva-Bharati’s chancellor, sought a report from the university authorities and asked for strong action. Also, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights asked the West Bengal government to probe the incident.
But in Santiniketan — where poet Rabindranath Tagore founded the university Visva-Bharati as an abode of peace outside the established education system — the fate of the probe appears uncertain.
The police took two days to arrest accused warden Uma Poddar, while the university’s own probe appeared to have exonerated her. Poddar’s own line of defence: making a child drink her own urine was the “traditional cure” for bed-wetting.
A warden at the university’s Karabi hostel for nine years, she claimed she had “cured” two other children the same way.
To counter Poddar’s arrest, the police arrested Punita’s parents on the basis of a complaint by the university authorities – because the couple had come to the hostel on Saturday night and taken away their child.
“The way they entered a girls’ hostel at night was trespassing,” registrar Mani Mukut Mitra said. But granting them unconditional bail, a local court reprimanded the police.
In an apparent attempt to shield Poddar, university vice-chancellor Sushanta Dutta Gupta said, “According to our inquiry committee report, the warden did ask the girl to drink her own urine, but she did not force her. Medical reports also confirm that the girl is normal.”
Besides, Poddar had informed the child’s mother beforehand about “the efficacy of the traditional method... The university has suspended the warden”.
The V-C’s defence of the warden not only flies in the face of medical knowledge, it also looks awkward coming from a physicist of international standing.