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School educators everywhere struggle to spot bullying before it escalates. What is specially indefensible in the case of a teenaged student’s suicide in Faridabad last week, is that his mother says she made repeated complaints to the school authorities and all of these were ignored. That other children mentally and physically tormented the student for various factors that set him ‘apart’, is classic bullying. That the teachers refused to take serious note of such behaviour, speaks to a more culpable shirking of the responsibility to ensure that schools are safe environments for children.

Experts say that poor local research and most educational institutes relying on Western data to design prevention and intervention programmes decreases the likelihood of their effectiveness. Such programmes are very rare to begin with. A 2014 Assocham survey that showed only 3% of private schools in Delhi-NCR having counsellors, as against the CBSE guideline requiring at least one full-time counsellor per school, was very telling. This makes teachers the default stand-in. But without proper training they cannot deliver either. The present case is indicative at best of a penchant for misreading seriously hurtful behaviour as harmless, and at worst of active negligence.

But the other thing experts emphasise is that suicide comes at the end of a complex pathway of factors. This makes the arrest of the school headmistress for abetment of suicide in the present case, as questionable as Rhea Chakraborty being similarly booked in 2020. The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 recognised that attempt to suicide is not a crime – both logically and medically driving people to suicide should not be a crime either. Indian schools are crying for structural protections against bullying and fixing accountability for excesses is also important. But populist scapegoating is a poor substitute and does little to prevent a recurrence of the present tragedy.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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