The search for learning has hit the reefs. And the title of this comment ~ borrowed from Sheridan’s play of the same name ~ could be a gross understatement for the horrendous crime that has roiled Kolkata’s GD Birla Centre for Education. The incident has made a mockery of the fundamental right to compulsory education ~ the proud boast of successive dispensations. Horror of horrors, a four-year-old lower primary student was molested in the washroom by two male physical instructors. Whether or not the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights eventually recommends the “blacklisting” of the school, as contemplated, the fact of the matter must be that the school authorities have consciously condoned the stark gender disconnect in an institution for girls and in so sensitive a sphere as physical instruction. It devolves on the West Bengal government and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination to act with urgent despatch. Prima facie, the school lacked the fundamental safeguards, such as a CCTV camera.

Over the past 24 hours, the authorities have been engaged in a laboured bout of hedging, most particularly over the reason why there is little or no internal surveillance. On closer reflection, this is not the only conundrum in the school’s administration. It beggars belief that a girls’ school makes do without female security guards. The handful of women attendants don’t always escort the children to the washroom and the school bus. Hence the vociferous demand of the parents that no male teacher, sweeper or attendant should enter the school complex. The management has been caught with all defences down, scarcely realising that there can be no defence of the indefensible. Notably, a section of the parents are having second thoughts on sending their children to this school that bears witness to a travesty of values, indeed the values that the child must inculcate… at least theoretically.
More accurately, GD Birla Centre for Education has been no stranger to sexual abuse. A not dissimilar incident had happened in 2014, yet no action has as yet been taken either by the school authorities or the police. The report, filed in 2015, has been docketed as most findings are. While the culprits do deserve exemplary punishment for Thursday’s rerun, no less imperative is it to fix the accountability of school authorities. Both parents and the children are traumatised, if the siege of the school by guardians ~ till 2-40 a.m. on Saturday ~ is any indication.

The crime ought to be of riveting concern to those engaged in the fashionable campus pursuit of women’s studies. Even in a purportedly “prestigious” school, the girl child is safe no more. A final point; how sick must a man be to see in a four-year old child an object for sexual gratification? It is time society introspected on the causes for such moral degeneration.