Ryan school murder raises fears of unsafe schools

Last Updated: Thu, Sep 14, 2017 10:54 hrs
Ryan International School

(Indian security personnel and demonstrators gather outside the Ryan International School in Gurgaon)

On Friday, a shocking scene was discovered in the toilet of Ryan International School in Gurgaon; the body of Pradhuman Thakur, a Class II student of the school was found dead with his throat slit and a knife as discovered at the scene. He was found by some students who immediately alerted the management.

10 people were detained which included the members of the school's staff and the bus conductor. The Haryana police will question the CEO of the Ryan International Group, Ryan Pinto. Following the murder, the CEO said that students’ safety was a top priority and that the school should not be held culpable saying, “We will not succumb to all the false allegations being made, nor will we fuel the various controversies being spread”.

Manika Sharma, the Director of The Shri Ram Schools in Delhi and NCR, in an op-ed for the Indian Express stressed on the importance of creating a safe learning environment for children in order to keep them safe –

“At the core of such incidents is a burning question that remains: Who is responsible for the safety of our children? Is it the school or the parents or at a larger level, the government? Perhaps it is all of them.”

“At school, creating a safe learning environment, identifying pupils who are suffering or at risk of harm and then taking suitable action, are vital to making sure that children are safe.”

This latest incident calls into question how seriously schools take students safety. The presence of not just security personnel but of other equipment particularly CCTV’s on school campuses. With regard to the this particular school, there seems to have been some security lapses; non teaching staff were hired without proper vetting allowing those who may have criminal records to work on the school premises and some of the CCTV cameras were not functioning.

The Asian Age in its editorial stated the need to protect children in the wake of not just the murder at Ryan, but other incidents involving students being punished and assaulted –

“Are we failing our children? The psychopathic murder of a schoolboy and a girl’s rape on school premises, besides cruelty inflicted for minor infractions of rules, reveals a pattern of sadistic behavior aimed at innocent, helpless young students who can’t retaliate.”

“The feckless way in which even basic background and security checks were ignored while hiring non-teaching staff and the inability to inculcate a sense of discipline in the teaching staff, were apparent in these few incidents. We must consider ourselves a failed society if we can’t offer the minimum guarantee of safety in schools”

With regards to hiring non teaching staff and no proper vetting, the schools’ bus conductor was arrested and supposedly confessed to killing the boy. Journalist Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava in an op-ed for NDTV writes on the violence that kids today face in schools –

“For families who trust a school to look after their child for the better part of a day, there are many scary loopholes in this narrative. How was a bus conductor walking unnoticed in the school corridors and then using a washroom that should be reserved only for students? If his admission is correct, how was a man who can so easily knife a little boy driving countless children to school every day?”

This is the second incident under which a student died under mysterious circumstances in a school under the Ryan International group of schools. In February of last year, a six-year-old student had drowned in a water tank at the school's Vasant Kunj branch.

Over the past few years, the group has been involved in controversies. The couple was named in an Rs1, 800 crore tax-evasion case by The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). In 2015, the same year as the tax-evasion case, the group was under criticism for allegedly forcing students, staff and parents to take up membership with the BJP, which they said was purely on a voluntary basis and denied the allegations of them forcing anyone. A report also stated that Pinto was lobbying for a Padma Shri when the UPA was in power.

Controversies aside, Ryan International group of schools remains popular among parents. What began as a failed venture by husband and wife duo AF Pinto and Grace Albuquerque; who is now the groups managing director; the group now employs 15,000 faculty in schools across 18 states.

It is also worthy to note that there is no specific law passed by Parliament to deal with the crimes against children in schools. In February of this year, a report by ChildFund Alliance showed that one in every three children in Indian schools feels unsafe. The study was also conducted in India where about 46% of those who were surveyed blamed the lack of adequate security measures.

The Times of India editorial stated that the murder in Gurgaon highlighted the absence of basic safety protocols –

“This is a wake-up call for all governments to implement uniform security norms, especially where school managements remain indifferent towards student safety.” “Consider the many security breaches reported from the Gurgaon School. No housekeeping staff was assigned to assist young children in the bathrooms. Non-teaching staff was allowed in these bathrooms, leaving children at the mercy of sexual predators. And a killer had no difficulty entering the school premises with a knife.”

“Haryana government must now ensure fair and speedy probe as well as punishment for all those responsible for Pradyuman’s murder. But all governments need to learn lessons from it, and ensure students are safe in schools.”

Following the murder, the child’s parents protested outside the city police commissioner's residence. Protestors also vandalized school property as police tried to control the mob. On Monday, parents gathered outside the Deputy Commissioners’ office in Gurgaon and at the Ryan International School to demand justice.

For the Hindustan Times, Pushpa Girimaji, a specialist in consumer law and safety writes a column on how the onus lies on schools to ensure the safety of kids –

“Any school with even an iota of concern for the safety of its pupils, would be aware of the risk of abuse that young children face at school and during travel to and from the school and the innumerable cases of molestation that have come to light in recent years.”

“The guidelines for safety of children in schools issued by Gurgaon police are one of the best on the subject and several clauses deal specifically on the issue of washroom safety. The conduct of the school vis-à-vis pupil safety should be probed thoroughly and stringent action taken for violations. So long as this is not done, schools will continue to ignore child safety.”

“There should be stringent punishment, including closure of schools, for violation. It is equally important to empower and educate parents, so that they demand strict compliance. Schools that do not protect the children on their premises (or during travel to and from school) have no right to exist.”

As the investigation begins, the father of the boy approached the Supreme Court which issued a notice to the centre and also sought a response from the CBSE seeking framing of guidelines to fix responsibility of schools on issue of children’s safety. Meanwhile, all four campuses of Ryan International School have been closed bringing in a new set of problems for the management.

More columns by Varun Sukumar