School students in Chennai participate in a candlelight vigil on Oct. 30 to pay tribute to two-year-old boy Sujith Wilson, who died after falling into a well in Tamil Nadu's Tiruchirappalli district. Two ninth-grade students drowned in Raipur on Nov. 30, resulting in a school being charged with negligence. (Photo: IANS)
A Catholic school in central India reopened on Dec. 4 after five days of protests by parents and local leaders over the death of two students who drowned during a school picnic.
Protests started in front of Bharat Mata School in Raipur on Nov. 30 after news spread that Aman Shukla, 14, and Khushdeep Sandhu, 15, had drowned while bathing in Mahanadi River.
They were among 170 students and 15 teachers who went for a picnic in scenic Sirpur, some 80 kilometers from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state.
“The problem started on Nov. 30 evening when parents who were waiting for their wards at the school gate received the message that two were missing,” said Father John Y. David, the local parish priest.
The school, run by nuns of the Society of Jesus Mary Joseph, functions under Raipur Archdiocese. When police confirmed the drownings, the parents became very agitated. They demanded the arrest for negligence of school staff who accompanied the students.
Reports said the ninth-grade students ignored signs that warned the spot was a “dangerous zone” and forbade bathing. Patrolling police had prevented teachers and students from going into the river just a few minutes before the tragedy.
However, several students ignored warnings and bathed in the river despite being non-swimmers. Sandhu and Shukla could not swim. By lunchtime, two students were reported missing. After an extensive search, officials recovered their bodies by evening.
Police filed a case of negligence against the school authorities.
Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar reported that seven people have died at the picnic spot in the past three years.
The protests ended after the school apologized and agreed to pay compensation of US$23,000 to each of the two bereaved families.
“We can’t blame the students or school authority but it seems that it was negligence from both sides,” said Father Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of Raipur Archdiocese.
“The school functions as usual but the police case against the school continues. Hopefully, it will be sorted out soon.”
State Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel declared that compensation of 400,000 rupees (US$5,700) would be paid to each of the two families.
Christians are a minority in Chhattisgarh state, forming just 2 percent of its 25.5 million people, mostly Hindus. However, Christian schools are sought after for their English education.