Kolkata Police delay probe into drowning death of child with autism, angry father demands answers
June 7, 2019
Nearly four months after Sambuddha, a child with autism, drowned in his school premises in Kolkata, there’s been no progress in the investigation. The Kolkata Police are yet to file even a charge sheet in the case.
“I am feeling confused and helpless”. Shubhojit Ghosh’s voice betrays his anguish and anger over the wall of silence that has come up in the matter regarding the death of his son Sambuddha.
On 20 February, four-and-a-half year Sambuddha, who had nonverbal autism, drowned at a pool in the school premises, shortly after his father had left him with his caregiver. The incident occurred at The Asha School run by the Army Welfare Wives Association, Eastern Command.
As far back as March, the Kolkata Police had promised Ghosh that a charge sheet was imminent, but nothing has happened since then. Frustrated, he has approached well-known disability rights activist Jeeja Ghosh Nag for help.
The father, Shubhojit Ghosh, has also sent a formal letter asking for help in the matter and I think it’s time this matter was taken up at the national level. My feeling is that this has happened under the Army’s watch, so this has to be taken up at a higher level. I don’t think approaching high level state authorities will get us anywhere. We have to approach Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot. - Jeeja Ghosh Nag, Disability rights activist
In his letter to Nag, Ghosh has outlined how the system failed his son at multiple levels.
- Why was Sambuddha left unattended by the stuff, supposedly skilled in special education, when the school knew he had a tendency to get restless?
- Why was he left unattended in the proximity of a water body given that a child who does not know swimming faced a risk to life?
- Why did the school go back on its commitment to look after Sambuddha given his special health condition?
- Why was the hydrotherapy room, where the pool is located, left open when the premises were packed with kids for the sports day event?
- And why was the pool filled with water and left uncovered?
Questions which continue to haunt Ghosh. Meanwhile The Asha School has reopened and it’s back to business for the school authorities.
“I had extensive meetings with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, South Kolkata and met with higher level state government authorities”, says Ghosh. “They keep telling me they are working on it and are in the process of filing a charge sheet. I have been hearing this for months now. I even met with the investigation officer. I am told there is no CCTV footage as the camera was not working at the time of the incident but that it started working two and a half hour later”.
Ghosh’s suspicions of a larger cover up seem plausible especially given that the police told him the forensic report may take as long as four years! “I feel there are unnecessary delays and evasions”. Ghosh is also upset with the Army for providing legal support to the school authorities accused for the lapses.
Allegations and suspicions apart, there are legitimate larger concerns of accountability raised by Sambuddha’s family and disability rights activists.
“The fact is that I put my child in what was promised to me as s safe and secure facility to be told that the caregiver went off for some errand and the class teacher was summoned for a meeting so no one is responsible for my child’s death”, says Ghosh. “The whole system seems to be saying it’s not our responsibility, which means this can happen to any other child”.
It's a question that the larger community of parents, NGOs and other organisations in the field of disability rights is asking as well. Soon after the incident, many of them came together to frame guidelines to protect children with disabilities in schools.
Those guidelines are almost ready, says Aditi Bandopadhyay, managing trustee of SAMYA Foundationthat reaches out to people with developmental challenges. She has also been standing by the Ghosh family in their struggle for justice.
"We thought that because of the election, the investigation was delayed. The police had promised strong action so were patient but such a long delay is frustrating for all of us. We are still waiting for answers for what happened in those 19 minutes after Sambuddha's father left him in school and that terrible call came telling him something was wrong".
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