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Karnataka disability commissioner cracks down on school charged with abuse of child with autism

Karnataka Disability Commissioner V S Basavaraju has cracked down on a Bengaluru school which has been accused of abusing a student with disability. He has asked local education authorities to provide an alternative school for all the disabled children studying in the school and asked for the fees to be refunded.

A tough, decisive stand taken by Karnataka Disability Commissioner V S Basavaraju, one that will hopefully set a precedent. In response to charges of abuse brought against a Bengaluru school by a parent, Mr Basavaraju has issued an interim order.

In a letter to Mr Basavaraju Geeta Ahuja Sharma detailed the manner in which her 10-year-old son, who has mild autism, was allegedly physically abused by the teachers at the school. When her efforts to get justice from the school were stonewalled, Geeta wrote to the Disability Commissioner.

Taking cognizance of the letter, Mr Basavaraju slapped a notice on the school. The notice says, among other things, that the school does not have the required trained staff and that the school officials must refund the child's fees amounting to ₹ 1,49,000 in total and issue a public apology within a week.

The letter also directs the school to refund the fees of all the other disabled students enrolled. "They need to refund the full amount collected from other disabled students and the Regional Education Officer Bangalore South must take action to help them get admitted in the neighbourhood schools having full infrastructure within 15 days".

Geeta, who says her son has been subject to physical abuse for over 10 months, is happy that justice is finally being done.

I am happy mainly about two things - one that officials have been asked to find alternative schools and two, that regarding my child, the fees have to be refunded and an apology given. The teachers who abused my son have not been mentioned but I am happy with this swift action taken. The fact that he has considered the other children enrolled there is also wonderful. - Geeta Ahuja, Complainant

This kind of forceful intervention on behalf of the disabled community is rare on the part of disability commissioners, making this a bold move. "Most disability commissioners don't know the powers they have under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act", says Delhi lawyer Shailja Sharma, who is an expert in disability law and parent to a child with disability.

The RPWD Act, says Shailja, confers upon disability commissioners the powers of the civil court. "Those who know that will act, those who don't, will not". Barring the states of Assam and Delhi, few state disability chiefs have exercised it.

In this case, Geeta's son suffered minor injuries. There are instances where severe abuse has been reported from schools and therapy centres, but no action has been initiated. "Even if Geeta had filed a FIR, the police action would have progressed at its own pace, if at all", says Shailja. "The Karnataka order, on the other hand, sets a precedent and will ensure no other child suffers. This is the kind of action needed at least until schools and implementing agencies of other provisions realise that its their duty to ensure they have the facilities or close down".

The larger issue is the lack of awareness among parents regarding their children's rights under RPWD Act, which makes them feel helpless and disempowered before schools and institutions. For Geeta too this has been a learning experience.

"This should set an example for parents too, that we must go through the RPWD Act 2016 as it specifies the rights of children. Every parent should know about their children's rights".

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