A day after the murder of Pradyuman, a seven-year-old Class 2 student, by Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor at Ryan International School, Sohna Road, Gurugram, in the school’s washroom, parents mounted pressure on the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to act against the school. The CBSE said it has formed a committee to investigate the incident. While Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar called it an “unfortunate incident”, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar told media persons: “If the allegations against the school are proved, then the affiliation will be revoked.”
Parents continued to stage violent protests outside the Ryan International School on Saturday, demanding that the school be held responsible for Pradyuman’s death.
Jyoti, Pradyuman’s mother, told the media, “My son did not even know the bus conductor as he never travelled in bus. We used to drop him and pick him up. The school could not even ensure basic safety for my son, then how will parents send their children to the school? The school must take responsibility.”
The bus conductor Ashok Kumar killed Pradyuman after a failed sexual assault and was arrested late Friday evening.
Sabeeha, mother of a student who studies in one of the NCR branches of Ryan International School, said, “This is disturbing. Obviously, we can no longer leave our children’s safety in the school’s hands and stay at home in peace. There have been demands to revoke the school’s affiliation. The school must take responsibility. However, if the police investigation holds the school responsible for the child’s death, it would be right to shut it down, but this will have a huge repercussion for students and their parents.”
The incident has evoked reactions from various stakeholders, including members of the Bar Association of Sohna, who have collectively decided not to appear on behalf of the accused.
Incidentally, in a letter dated 30 March 2017, Dr A.F. Pinto, chairman of the Ryan group, addressing Class 10 students, had said, “During your schooling with us, you have been constantly motivated, guided and instilled values to become a responsible citizen and global leader. Always remind yourself that you are a chosen child of God and a King/Queen in the making.”
The letter was meant to be a motivational message for Class 10 students who will be appearing for their board examinations soon. The two-page letter also provides a study time table for students to help in their preparations.
The Sunday Guardian made repeated attempts to speak to the school’s spokesperson, but to no avail.
This incident has also raised questions on the profile of the employees of the school. While CBSE does not mandate guidelines for employment of non-teaching staff in private schools, experts said that most high-profile schools do carry out normal background checks of their staff. Dr Dhirendra Mishra, Director, Life Educare, a Raipur-based consultancy firm that works with private schools, said, “As a consultancy firm, we advise schools to follow and adopt our Human Resource manual that is inspired by best practices in the education industry across the world. One of the key points that we insist schools follow is to get their teaching as well as non-teachng staff registered with the local police. The process hardly costs extra and ensures a legitimate background check.”
In the backdrop of Pradyuman’s murder, Dr Mishra added, “European schools follow specific measures to discourage any kind of sexual harassment in schools. They do not allow non-teaching staff to walk unsupervised in the teaching area where students take classes. The non-teaching staff follows strict guidelines to stay segregated.”
Such insights further look bad on Ryan school’s record given that Ryan is an international group, founded in 1976 by Dr Pinto, having 304 schools in 18 states within India and 43 outside India. The Ryan Group started its first school in Mumbai in 1976.
NOT THE FIRST INCIDENT
This is not the first time that one of Ryan school’s branches has come under the scanner for security lapses. Last year, on 20 January 2016, Devansh Kakrora, a six-year-old student, died after he allegedly fell into a water tank in the Vasant Kunj branch of Ryan International School. Though the Delhi police had recorded the death under Section 304(a) of the Indian Penal Code, dubbing it a death by negligence, his parents alleged that it was a pre-meditated murder.
Delhi police had said that the Vasant Kunj incident did not look like a pre-meditated murder, but a case of utter negligence on the part of school authorities. “When we inspected the water tank, two spectacles, balls, pens and pencils were found. It clearly shows that students had access to the tank. The possible danger was known to the school authorities, but no preventive steps were taken. The articles found in the tank had gathered algae. This again reveals that these were dropped in the tank long ago,” the police had explained.
Meanwhile, a CBSE official said: “We have formed a committee to investigate the incident.” The official said more details would be provided later.
Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “The brutal murder of a seven-year-old student is an unfortunate incident.”
Ryan International School, Sohna Road, has suspended Neerja Batra, the incumbent principal. Block education officer Ritu Chowdhury, a member of the probing SIT, said, “We are combing through CCTV footage, and will also ask students whether there have been other cases of molestation. The school has very high fees, so we will find out if there should be separate toilets, and why the conductor was allowed to go. The staff will be investigated.”