-The Times of India
BOLPUR/NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister's office on Monday took serious note of an incident where a Class-V student of Visva-Bharati's Patha Bhavan school was forced to lick her urine as punishment for bedwetting. The PM is the university's chancellor and his office has asked for a report. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights too has slapped a notice on the state government asking for a response within 10 days.
As the incident sparked national outrage on Monday, Uma Poddar, the hostel warden accused of subjecting the child to extreme humiliation, got bail hours after she was arrested. Sparking a wave of anger among guardians and Santiniketan residents, the traumatized girl's parents too were arrested and charged with criminal intimidation.
But on Monday, when the case came up before additional chief judicial magistrate Pijush Ghosh, he gave the parents unconditional bail and pulled up the police for "going soft" on Poddar. Calling the incident "deplorable and highly condemnable", Ghosh directed Visva-Bharati to bear the expenses for the victim's treatment and realise it from Poddar's salary. The court expressed dismay over the way Visva-Bharati had handled the incident.
Poddar allegedly sprinkled salt on the soiled bedsheet and forced the 10-year-old child to lick it on Saturday to punish her for bedwetting. The incident has left the child so traumatized that she insists she won't go back to the hostel ever again. "I want to move to another school if I'm not allowed to attend classes from home," she told TOI. "I begged and pleaded with the warden not to make me lick the soiled bedsheet, but she didn't listen. When I complained to my mother, the warden taunted me and demanded to know why I had called my mother," she said.
Soon after the court order, Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sushanta Dattagupta told reporters that a committee probing the allegation against Poddar "has found substance in the girl's complaint". The incident happened in front of her roommates, the V-C said, adding that Poddar had been suspended.
But the action is too little, too late, guardians say. The incident has scared other children of the hostel, too. The charges against Poddar are too light, they say — a view the Bolpur court seemed to share.
Poddar has merely been booked for wrongful detention and 'a malignant act that could spread infection' (IPC Sections 343, 269 and 270). The court held that police should have booked her under the Juvenile Justice Act. Bolpur lawyers also feel that such "torture" should have been dealt with all seriousness under Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act.
On the other hand, the victim's parents face serious charges like criminal trespass and intimidation, based on a complaint from Visva-Bharati. The university's FIR says the parents damaged public property when they came to see their "tormented" ward at Karabi Girl's Hostel on Saturday night.
Visva-Bharati spokesperson Amrit Sen has claimed that they did not mention any parent's name in their compliant but Birbhum SP Rishikesh Meena on Monday said that the complaint mentions "five names, including those of the girl's parents". "We arrested the parents on the basis of the university's complaint," he said. Asked about the court censuring the police for going soft on the accused, Meena said: "We frame charge on the basis of the complaint. The sections imposed against the hostel warden were based on the compliant lodged by the parents. We may include other sections if the court directs us to do so."
State education minister Bratya Basu is writing to HRD minister Kapil Sibal to take action against those involved in the case. "The state government does not have jurisdiction over a central university like Visva-Bharati," Basu said.
Teachers who resort to such inhuman 'punishment' have no place in our education system. If the allegations against the warden are proved correct, she must be sacked immediately. Further, she must be criminally prosecuted for the mental torture afflicted on such a young child. For their part, the authorities at Visva-Bharati University must not be seen to be protecting the errant teacher. Their duty in this case is to protect the child, not a member of their staff who has let them down so badly, if the allegations are right.
(With inputs from Agencies)