Principal ousted girl with celebral palsy in 2010, but was later forced to take her back after threat of legal action from Supreme Court

MUMBAI :  St Columba High School, which is in the news for thrashing a kindergarten student, had in January 2010 ousted a student with cerebral palsy but was forced to take her back after the threat of legal action from the Supreme Court.

It happened under the same principal, Annette Lobo. As in the present case, she refused to acknowledge the mistake and made false claims about the student, Darshana Ramgiri (9).

Cerebral palsy which is caused by damage to the motor control centres of the brain during pregnancy or childbirth has left Darshana with a slight limp and a weak right hand. Otherwise, Darshana is like any other child and Nair hospital had even certified that she had a normal IQ.

Despite this, Annette Lobo forced her out. Justifying her decision, she had told this reporter that the child had to be carried up to her classroom every day. “She can’t do anything on her own. Can I keep a special teacher just to look after her?” Lobo had said.

Educationists and mental health experts say the school’s decision was a blatant violation of child rights and a negation of the principle of inclusive education enunciated in ‘sarv shiksha abhiyan’. It was also against the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full opportunities) Act.

However, neither the school education department nor the state human rights commission nor any child rights organisation intervened to help Darshana after the story appeared in the media. The deputy director for school education did not even bother to reply to a complaint lodged by Darshana’s mother.

Darshana’s saviour turned out to be the New Delhi-based National Legal Services Authority which took cognisance of the media reports. The body, which is headed by the chief justice of the supreme court, felt that “injustice had been done to the child, affecting her right to education” and instructed its Maharashtra counterpart to “file a writ, if any, and provide legal aid to the child”.

On receiving the notice from the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (MSLSA), Annette Lobo of immediately changed tack. MSLSA did not file a writ as the school took the student back.

To protect herself from legal action, Lobo attached a one-line, handwritten backdated letter by Darshana’s mother, saying she was withdrawing the child from the school “due to personal reasons”. Darshana’s mother had told this correspondent that she wrote the letter under duress as she was afraid that her daughter would be failed and would end up losing a year. Eventually, Darshana cleared her third standard with 44.5% marks, scoring 65% in maths.

Psychiatrist Harish Shetty, who has extensively dealt with school children, said, “It is shameful that school managements support teachers who spread terror in the classroom.” He said it was high time that the education department looked into child rights violations which are rampant in Mumbai’s schools.

Legal aid for all

 The Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (MSLSA), also known as the legal aid cell of the Bombay high court, strives to ensure that justice is not denied to citizens by reasons of economic or other disabilities. It provides free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society and also conducts Lok Adalats and legal literacy camps. The authority is also empowered to file public interest litigation or finance a PIL if it is convinced that the petitioners are poor or illiterate. Situated at the Bombay high court, the MSLSA can be contacted on tel no 22691358/95 and email can be sent to it on mslsa-bhc@nic.in. The official website is egalservices.maharashtra.gov.in

Anil Singh

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