At least six years after a girl died in mysterious circumstances in the washroom of her school in Kolkata’s Dum Dum area, Calcutta High Court has cracked the whip again. It bears recall that she was allegedly locked up in the washroom when she refused to contribute to the Teachers’ Day fund.
Equally tragic has been the death last week of a 14-year-old girl of the GD Birla Centre for Education, once again in the washroom. It would be rather too simplistic to aver that she was skeptical about whether she would be able to fulfil the consummation she had devoutly wished for ~ to study at the Indian Statistical Institute. Normally, such options of higher learning come up for consideration only after Class 12 (approximately at the age of 18). That said, the probability of parental pressure to perform cannot readily be discounted, given that a stressed-out childhood is today a societal phenomenon. At two ends of the city ~ from Dum Dum to Regent Park ~ it is the mysterious end that has brought school authorities under a cloud. Hence the robust assertion of the Bench (coram: Pratik Prakash Banerjee, J) on Thursday, specifically that “school suicides cannot happen”. The High Court has thus emitted a signal to schools generally.
A child goes to school in search of learning… and not to end his/her life in the washroom, this time by slashing her wrist. This is a hideous thought if ever there was one. In the wider canvas, it is the safety of the institutions that has come under the scanner. Hence the directive to the state government to furnish a report on the case and specify whether schools in West Bengal have counsellors, toilet attendants, and “sufficient washroom facilities”. On the anvil is a comprehensive guideline on security in consultation with the government, the school authorities, and parents. Clearly, the court has been riveted to issues that are close to the bone, indubitably more critical than the shuffling of Principals and reconstitution of governing bodies of missionary schools by successive Bishops, with the incumbent intent on negating what his predecessor had effected. In death, Krittika Paul has exposed the systemic lacunae, chiefly the absence of counsellors. In November 2018, in a case relating to molestation inside a school, Justice Nadira Patherya had directed that counsellors must be appointed in all educational institutions in West Bengal. All or nearly most schools have faltered in the followthrough. It is difficult to concur with the occasional demand by guardians for CCTVs in schools; such surveillance runs counter to the ethics of a centre of learning.
The court’s suo motu notice of a CISF security audit of two very prominent twin schools doesn’t inspire optimism. The report of the central force has mentioned grave threats to children, faculty, and property in both schools. The murk within needs to be cleansed before any speculation on the why and wherefore of suicides in the washroom, even molestation by security guards. Adults owe it to the school children to ensure a congenial environment.