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Nearly a month after Sambuddha Ghosh's death, family struggles for answers

Over three weeks after Sambuddha Ghosh's death, his parents are still waiting to know the sequence of events that led to their son's drowning accident.

Sambuddha, less than five years old, had non-verbal autism and was studying at the Asha School, run by the Army Wives Welfare Association for children with disabilities. On 20 February, Sambuddha attended a sports day event in school accompanied by his father. After it ended, Sambuddha was left in the charge of a school caretaker and his class teacher.

Less than 20 minutes later, his father Subhojit Ghosh received a call informing him that something was wrong with his son. Ghosh rushed to school and then to the hospital, where doctors said his son was brought dead.

Ghosh has spared no efforts to find out what happened.

I have approached the Child Rights Protection Commission, Women and Child Development Minister Dr Shahi Panja, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, South Zone and the Additional Commissioner of Police. Every one of them has promised a fair investigation. It is taking time as the forensics report and CCTV footage is yet to come back from the Central Forensics Department . - Subhojit Ghosh, Sambuddha's father

Ghosh is unhappy about the delay into the investigation and hopes that the intervention of higher-level authorities will speed matters up. "I was unhappy about the delay and hence I met these authorities. They have promised me that this will be dealt with properly and I believe them, says Ghosh.

Many unanswered questions

The post mortem report has confirmed that Sambuddha's death was due to drowning. But there are many questions that demand answers:

  • How did the child wander away when there were two people watching over him?
  • How did no one else notice Sambuddha walking to the hydrotherapy room located at considerable distance?
  • Why was the hydrotherapy room left unlocked given that there was a sports day event in school and there were many children present?
  • Why was the pool, which was not in use, left uncovered exposing children to danger?

Questions to which the family wants answers. Ghosh has submitted a list of 14 witnesses to the police for some clarity. These include other parents who were present that day.

The Asha School has blamed the caregiver under whose charge Sambuddha was placed. "School authorities told the police that she needed a toilet break and left the child with some parents, says Aditi Bandopadhyaya, Founder, SAMYA Foundation, which is among the many groups in Kolkata that is campaigning for justice in the case.. "Apparently in that interim, the class teacher was also called away. The police have a timeline of what happened.

The principal and vice-principal of the Asha School, Sudeshna Basu and Sarbani Mitra respectively, had applied for anticipatory bail, but this has been rejected by the court on 14 March. Another teacher, who was taken into custody after the incident, has been granted bail.

Meanwhile, disability rights groups in West Bengal have rallied around the family, determined to find the answers to Sambuddha's death and ensure such tragedies never happen again.

"All the organizations have come together to decide policies regarding child protection and the centres that look after them, says Bandopadhyaya. "We want experts from different fields in this committee. We are also waiting for the West Bengal government to come up with guidelines regarding the rules and regulations about institutions looking after people with disabilities.

Perhaps the first step in this direction could be notifying the RPWD 2016 Act, something the state government is yet to do.

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