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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Ryan murder: There is no excuse for not keeping our children safe

The bloodcurdling murder of 7-year-old Pradyuman Thakur in Noida’s Ryan High School is grim reminder of the dangers that lurk for children even in seemingly ‘safe’ environs

mumbai Updated: Sep 15, 2017 01:08 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times

The bloodcurdling murder of 7-year-old Pradyuman Thakur in Noida’s Ryan High School is grim reminder of the dangers that lurk for children even in seemingly ‘safe’ environs.

Investigations continue to find out exactly how this gruesome murder happened, with the needle of suspicion pointing towards an allegedly perverted bus conductor.

But irrespective of how the case unravels, fact remains that a young boy had his throat slit in a brutal assault in the school’s bathroom. A young life was lost and the school authorities can hardly escape charges of neglecting safety measures at least.

The belief that something like this can happen only in the hinterland of the country where lawlessness is commonplace is flawed stereotyping and obfuscates the real issue.

Mumbai too, it will be recalled, had a series of incidents of rape or molestation of school kids by school bus staff not long back to show that such evil pervades even in large metros.

In early 2015, the case of a 12-year-old girl from a reputable school in Dadar who had been periodically sexually assaulted by a bus cleaner in the school’s toilet came to light. The girl was too traumatised to reveal this to her parents or school authorities, and it was not until she started getting panic attacks that the shocking truth was gradually revealed.

A couple of years earlier, in 2013, a four-year-old girl had been molested by the cleaner of her school bus. This only became known when her parents asked her where she had learnt to kiss the way she did, and the girl replied, “From conductor uncle”. What morbid fantasy consumes a depraved mind is not easy to gauge and is not only an ‘Indian’ problem. But this is precisely why it is imperative that stringent safety checks are put in place, particularly where children are exposed.

After the hue and cry by activists and concerned citizens over the spate of incidents involving kids travelling by school bus across the country some years back, Maharashtra initiated a school bus policy. But even in Mumbai, where the movement to make school buses safe actually began, reportedly only a few bus operators adhere to the required norms. For the most part, it is business as usual.

Undoubtedly, there is huge pressure on schools for proper maintenance given the number of children they handle. This is felt more acutely among schools that cater to the middle-class and below.

Yet there is no excuse for laxity where basic security is concerned. Why and how can a bus cleaner have access to the same toilet as children – as in the case of Noida’s Ryan High School -- demands harsh scrutiny.

The problem is as much disdain for accountability as absence of sensibilities. Demand far outstrips supply, profitability of enterprise takes precedence over education and safety and the law is toothless or willing to turn a blind eye.

With public memory notoriously short, as soon as the outrage over one incident is over, the issue more often than not is forgotten. In effect, there is little to restrain recurrence of the same crisis.

On a wider plane, there is something terribly wrong with a society that puts the health and safety of its children so low down its list of priorities. And this is not just restricted to schools. Consider how soon the deaths of children in Gorakhpur disappeared from the news cycle. In any ordinary, sensible conversation, infant and newborn deaths in a hospital should have shocked the conscience of the country.It should have been top of the mind until as much as is needed to be done was accomplished, more so when the deaths were caused by administrative and not medical failures.

What we got instead was a deplorable, polarised political tu-tu main-main that obscured the tragedy, and a shocking statement from the state administration that ‘babies die all the time’. Unless such apathy is seen as criminal neglect, whether in a hospital or a school, they most likely will.