|SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA|
Ranchi, June 18: If you are a needy child — boy or girl doesn’t matter — from the margins and are lucky to have bagged a berth at a government-run residential school, welcome to textbooks but please don’t expect toilets.
This shocking truth is revealed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in its scathing report following visits to Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Gumla, and Residential School for Tribal Boys, Baridih, under Ranchi district. These schools, tucked in the grimy, poverty-ridden folds of the hinterland, makes a mockery of the Right to Education Act due to the sheer hardship shorn of dignity that comes hand in hand with basic schooling.
Windows lack curtains, staircases railings, toilets running water. Soaps, bulbs and brooms are unheard-of luxuries. This is life at the girls-only Kasturba Gandhi residential school in Gumla, which the national child rights panel does not know what to make of, even after examining its Palamau counterpart that ran out of a boys’ observation home.
The panel’s visit was a link in a greater chain of events. A minor Gumla girl was abused for days at a New Delhi home where she worked as a maid, raising nationwide outrage. A national commission team comprising members Dinesh Laroia and Vinod Kumar Tikoo, registrar B.K. Sahu and senior consultant Ramanath Nayak came to Gumla to understand how mechanics of poverty, migration and trafficking force minor girls out of homes. The team visited the Kasturba Gandhi school on April 28 as part of this visit.
In its report to the state government, the members said Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya at Bharno, Gumla, some 50km from the capital, had a pucca building with a boundary wall, but that’s where the good news ended.
One hundred and sixty-eight girls — against the sanctioned strength of 240 — stay in rooms with uneven floors, uncovered windows and no doors. The school does not have proper electricity connection. A generator set operates for three hours a day, from 6pm to 9pm. Most young girls stayed on the first floor where the stairway does not have railings. Girls told the commission members that staying on the first floor was risky during bad weather and they were “scared” at night. The commission found the toilet complex “unusable”.
In its report, the commission has asked the administration to ensure power, proper doors and windows, railing for stairs, toilet facility, gas or kerosene lamps and solar torches, as well as repair the ground floor toilet complex.
The Gumla administration responded with a mixed bag of half-hearted work, excuses and explanations.
Gumla deputy commissioner Rahul Sharma assured “prompt action”. But district superintendent of education Arjun Prasad said the building was under construction and had not been handed over to the government by the Gram Siksha Samiti, which was facing a financial bungling probe.
Prasad added that the administration had constructed a toilet complex and completed electric wiring. “But fitting doors will take time,” he said.
At Residential School for Tribal Boys at Baridih, Ranchi district, which the commission visited on the same day, 248 boys were found to be staying in utter filth, said the commission.
The school lacked basic facilities like water, toilets, floors, bulbs, brooms and soaps.
The building was dilapidated. A section has been declared by the government as “unfit for use”, but the open kitchen lies within the danger zone.
The school lacks a functional toilet complex. Irrespective of season or time of day, boys go to the river, 1.5km from the building, to bathe and relieve themselves.
The commission asked the state government to immediately get the toilets functional, ensure running water, replace fused electric bulbs and arrange safe electric wiring in the hostel rooms.
The then tribal welfare commissioner Pravin Toppo had assured “immediate action”.
Ranchi welfare officer Dasrath Raut, however, sounded practical. “We have written many times to the state government for funds. Where is the money?” he asked.