3 children lost their lives in a gruesome wall collapse incident in a government-aided, RTE-exempted Christian school in Tamil Nadu. 3 more children are undergoing treatment after sustaining serious injuries. The correspondent, headmistress and the building contractor have been arrested following the incident.
On December 17, the wall of the boys’ lavatory in Schaffter Higher Secondary School collapsed on the children standing nearby. While 3 of them, Anbazhagan (Class IX), Viswaranjan (Class VIII) and Sudheesh (Class VI) succumbed to injuries. 4 boys Sanjay (Class VIII), Esakki Prakash (Class IX), Sheikh Abukkar (Class XII) and Abudllah (Class VII) sustained serious wounds and are undergoing treatment.
Eyewitnesses recounted that the older boys wanted to rescue the boys trapped under the collapsed wall. But the teachers wouldn’t allow it and waited for the ambulance to arrive. They alleged that despite owning cars and parking them right inside the school complex, teachers didn’t use them to take the boys to hospital in time to save them. Staging a protest in front of the school students claimed that the teachers, non-teaching staff failed to come to the rescue of the students or inform their parents.
Schaffter Higher Secondary School established by Rev.Schaffter, an European missionary and comes under the control of Tinnevely Diocese Trust Association (TDTA). The 100 year old school is funded by the government and, being a minority run institution, it is exempted from, more precisely immune to, the Right To Education Act as well. The RTE Act has a clear set of rules for standards of a school building. It mandates that “The school shall also comply with the norms and standards notified by the State Government under any other law regarding infrastructure facilities including land and buildings“.
Section 7(c) says “nature of building and the facilities to be provided in the building shall be in accordance with the norms and standards specified in the Schedule“. To obtain the No Objection Certificate, only with which schools will be recognised, they are forced to follow the school safety norms to the tee. These norms are used to harass school owners for frivolous things. However as minority institutions are exempted from RTE, they are spared from following even the necessary safety measures.
This has helped them open schools in large numbers and indoctrinate children with their religious propaganda. It is to be kept in mind that minority institutions can appoint teachers on their own without having to follow the RTE or state government rules for selecting them. Neither do they have to follow the rule that students should not be screened for admission. Essentially they run their institutions autonomously allowing inspections of some departments at certain intervals which can be “managed”.
Schaffter school’s authorities were directed to appear in front of the deputy collector and educational department officials. Diocesan officials appeared in front of them and submitted the concerned documents. However the investigating authorities found them inadequate. There are reports saying NOC was given by the fire safety department in January and the revenue department in 2019, which would be valid for 3 years. District collector who inspected the site said that upon investigation it was revealed that the lavatory wall was built without laying a foundation.
Even though minority institutions are exempted from the RTE Act, governments give them special monetary benefits. IDMI scheme is one such scheme in which minority institutions can avail Rs.50 lakh or 75% of the total estimate if they want to expand the infrastructure. It is not known whether Schaffter Higher Secondary School availed this benefit but it received monetary aid from TN government for paying it’s teaching employees.
If it were a Hindu run institution, Dravidianists and liberals would have descended on Hindus with contempt terming it as an RSS, BJP, Hindutva ideological crime. But as it is a Christian school not even its name was reported by the media. What’s more none of them even recognise the disparity in the field of education and rather seem to think that if not for the missionaries Bharatiyas would have been illiterate.
Following the gruesome incident, TN government has ordered for all schools across the state to be inspected and unsafe ones demolished with immediate effect. Many school buildings have allegedly become weak due to heavy monsoon rains. While it is commendable that the government is acting briskly, the root of the cause, the non accountability that makes minority institutions immune to following rules and regulations, continues to remain a threat.