With Haryana already grappling with a spate of rape cases, the scene on the education front is no better. Just a few months after the gruesome killing of a child, allegedly by another student, in the now infamous Ryan International School in Gurugram, the state has been stunned by the shooting of the principal of Swami Vivekanand Public School in Yamunanagar, last weekend. There are more cases of teachers being assaulted that are being discussed.
While there are steps being initiated to bring about stringent legal provisions to ensure the safety of children studying in schools, school managements are pointing to the other aspect that stands ignored – the safety and security of school principals, bus drivers, conductors, and teachers.
A statewide bandh
To air their resentment over the government turning a blind eye to these concerns, private schools in the state have decided to observe a statewide bandh in Haryana on 30 January. The management of these schools are seeking a comprehensive policy on the security of both children as well as the functionaries of schools in the event of an accident in which lives are lost, or with regards to the threat that teachers often face from none other than their own students.
“Whenever there is something, the knee-jerk reaction of the government is to order arrest or probe against the school principal. If it is an accident, the first ones to be arrested are the school bus driver and conductor. Our main concern is that there should be a thorough probe into the matter and only the guilty should be punished,” explained Kulbhushan Sharma, president of the Federation of Private Schools Association.
Sharma went on to explain that the majority of principals and teachers in schools are women, not criminals. “Things are coming to a point where women are reluctant to perform the duties of principals, and it is becoming difficult to find suitable drivers and conductors for the school buses,” he lamented.
He said that instances of accidents and assaults on teachers are not confined only to the private schools. “These things are happening in government schools too, but it is only the private school teachers and managements that are targeted when such things happen,” Sharma said.
Sharma's grievances are not without reason. In fact, he was able to rattle off a series of incidents that highlight just how widespread a problem this is. “Recently, there was the instance of a government school teacher being slapped by a student in Chandigarh. Sometime back, there was the instance of a teacher being assaulted by a student with a sickle in Jhajjar. In October, a student had attacked a teacher with a knife in a private school in Bahadurgarh.
“Our concern is that when the government is trying to formulate a safety policy for schools, why is it not involving the private school managements. You can gauge the government attitude from the fact that, till date, neither chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar nor the education minister Ram Bilas Sharma have come out with a statement condemning the gunning down of the school principal in Yamunanagar,” he said.
Pointing to the dismal state of affairs that is prevalent, Sharma said that the state government has shown no seriousness to resolve issues which the private schools have tried to raise repeatedly. “Two years ago, we were promised that a ten-member state level joint committee comprising officials and our representatives would be formed, and it would hold monthly meetings to deal with these concerns. But that committee is yet to see the light of the day,” he added.
A parenting problem
The state is surely sitting on a tinderbox if one analyzes the examples the private school authorities have to share. Talking about the mindset of the students resorting to violent acts, Captain Sanjay Anand, who runs a private school in Panchkula, said, “The children have easy access to money and the parents are simply not bothered either how their children lay hands on huge amounts of cash and what they do with it.
“Sometime back, I was shocked when the man who runs the canteen in my school called me saying that a toddler from among the junior-most classes had walked up to him with the currency note of highest denomination asking for a packet of snacks costing Rs 10 only. Obviously, he did not understand the currency denominations. To our shock, we later found that he had come to school carrying Rs 50,000 in cash. When it was brought to the notice of the parents, the response was very casual,” Anand exclaimed.
He went on to give another example saying, “On Tuesday, when we were at one of the schools in Yamunanagar, the principal got a call from the canteen salesman complaining that a student had asked him whether the salesman would provide what he was asking for on priority, or whether he wanted some bullets. All this is the result of parents not spending time with the children and having a mindset that they are free of their parental responsibilities once they have paid the school fees.”
Sharma said that it is the parents who need to check what their wards are carrying to school. “We do not give them arms. It is from their homes or wherever that these children bring guns and knives to school. Why put the onus on principals and teachers when something happens?” he asked.
An example that is being quoted in this regard, is that of the Yamunanagar killing. The child accused of shooting the principal did not miss a single shot when he fired four times. It is being inferred that he had used the weapon before, and also had easy access to it.
Anand points out that there is also a need to regulate the private academies and dummy schools that have mushroomed in every city. “While there are fixed timings and restrictions for schools, these academies function till the middle of the night. The parents, after paying the fees of these academies, do not know what their child is doing when he leaves home for these institutes.
“Since most of these academies are located in the busy markets, the children have easy access to alcohol and other things,” he explained.