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Bengaluru school under scanner over allegations of abuse of child with autism

A school in the posh Whitefield area in Bengaluru is under the spotlight after a parent alleged that her child was physically abused by teachers here. The 10-year-old child, who is on the autism spectrum, apparently returned home from school with bruises all over his body. His parents have filed a case with the Karnataka Disability Rights Commissioner seeking justice.

For nearly a year now, 10-year-old Dhruv*, not his real name, would come home from school and often complain about being physically abused. His mother Geetu Ahuja Sharma also noticed bruises all over his body and visited the school to find out what was wrong. Geetu even checked the CCTV footage but never found any evidence of what was going on.

Then on 26 June, things hit the point of no return. When Dhruv was picked up at the bus stop, Geetu noticed bruises on his face like he had been slapped. Upon being questioned, he said that one Sunita ma'am had slapped him'. Geetu says she immediately contacted the Principal who responded after one hour.

The principal and the head teacher denied that any abuse had taken place but the CCTV visuals, which are now viral, clearly show Dhruv being physically abused, say his parents.

Earlier, when I had complained about Dhruv being harassed, school authorities denied accusations and I did not have solid proof to turn against them. Soon, I started getting messages from them saying that he was very weak in academics and had to be demoted to pre-school. My son was promoted to class two by the same teachers who said he needs to be demoted. How can they be irresponsible? Soon enough, he was abused by his teachers and that is clearly seen in the video. At any cost, we want justice for our son. - Geetu Ahuja Sharma, Parent.

Even though they gave a written complaint, the family chose to not file an FIR back then. They have also approached Karnataka Disability Commissioner V S Basavaraju who has promised speedy justice to Dhruv and his family.

Geetu says she will not send her son back to the school and is frustrated that no other parent has come forward in support "Many parents of this school have complaints, but no one is willing to come on record. I have not sent my child back to that school. The principal promised she will check into it, and nothing substantial has been done". Geetu is also upset that the school blamed her son, who is epileptic and is on the spectrum for the behaviour.

Geetu's complaint has opened a can of worms as further investigation has shown that the school does not have the documentation needed to train children with disabilities. Neither the principal nor the special educators are qualified. Geetu wants an example to be made. "My issue is that my son has been violated. We do not want any other kids to go through such a harrowing experience".

Speaking to the media, Basavaraju said none of the people running the school have the required qualifications. "They have an introductory, three-month online course. The school is also not registered under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which is a huge lapse".

Similar allegations of abuse across schools and centres for disabled children in Kerala had led to a PIL In the Kerala High Court following which the state was directed to frame guidelines to monitor these centres. Seema Lal, Co-founder, TogetherWeCan, a parent support group that had spearheaded that campaign, says she is willing to extend the support needed.

"I hope Geetu and her family gets the courage and patience to follow through this situation despite the extreme pain and frustration that they have to go through", said Seema. "We are going to extend all support so that they get speedy justice and I hope this paves way for larger reforms to bring regulations and accountability to special schools".

Seema says that it is unfortunate that authorities wait for something to go wrong instead of being proactive. "Why wait for such drastic and gruesome incidents to happen to take action?", she asks. "Parent empowerment and training is need of the hour. Teacher sensitisation must be made mandatory", she adds.

Efforts are being made to relocate the 42 other children in the school to other centres for children with disabilities.

ALSO READ: Parents in Kerala demand closer monitoring of child therapy centres

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