No society in the world can match Indians in their callousness towards children. Why, in 2014, does the Supreme Court have to pronounce — and that, too, for a second time in two years — that all schools, government, non-government, government-aided or minority, have to provide separate toilets for girls and boys and facilities for drinking water? A naïve visitor from Mars, or somewhere similar, would think that this is a country just emerging into civilized systems from the chaos of creation. Governments and other makers of schools have to be reminded that providing proper bathrooms and safe drinking water is a part of the right to education, which is now a law. It is to be noted that politicians and mainstream society are usually apathetic regarding the rights of weaker segments unless these are made into laws. Callousness being the norm, the kind of lack the court is admonishing is seen as perfectly ‘normal’. Really, it is good enough that children in the villages and from backward segments are being given schools; what do they need bathrooms for? And why should they expect proper drinking water? The unspoken question often is, do they get these at home?
Surveys show that one reason for girls dropping out of school is the lack of bathrooms. Unhygienic arrangements and absence of access to safe drinking water take a toll on the health not just of girls but of boys as well. The court’s direction shows that these conditions persist, whatever changes the Right to Education Act or schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have brought about. Those who visualize and make schools, including the person or institution that funds the enterprise, may provide interesting matter for anthropological study. How do their minds, imaginations and memories work? They obviously do not take any pride in their task, but do they not even have a simple, working sense of what they are building? The answer must remain one of those eternally impenetrable mysteries.