Tuesday morning was no different for 32-year-old Raju. Like every weekday, he dropped his 2-year-old son to the day care centre he has been going to for the past five months.
After dropping his son at the Kaliveedu Day Care and Play School in Palarivattom, a little away from their home, Raju left for his workplace in Edapally. However, a couple of hours later, Raju found himself frantically driving back to the day care centre to get his son.
The Palarivattom police had informed Raju that the day care centre staffer Mini had been taken into custody for allegedly beating up a boy child.
Speaking to The News Minute outside Kaliveedu, Raju says that there were no indication that the children were being mistreated at the centre. Looking back, Raju tries to make sense of the behavioural changes in his 2-year-old son, that might have been indications of harassment.
"My son used to wake up in the middle of the night, frightened about something. We din't know what was bothering him. Could it have been because of the harassment by the day care staffer? We don't know. Although such incidents did raise our suspicion, we could not point towards anything concrete. My son used to be asleep most of the time after he came back from the centre. Could he have been given cough syrup? We really can't tell," a distressed Raju narrates, even as his son is fast asleep on his shoulder.
Seema (name changed), mother of a 2-year-old boy, told TNM that she has often found bruises on her son's body
"There used to be dark blue patches on his skin. And when I questioned the staff, they told me that the older children had hurt my child. The staff said that it was normal for the older kids to get into a fight with the younger ones."
There are 17 children in the day care centre. While most of them are below the age of four years, there are some children aged between four and five-and-a-half years, who go to the centre after school.
Seema alleged that it is the younger children below the age of four years, who are generally beaten, since the staff believe that the children wonâ€™t complain to their parents.
Another parent Deepa, who works at a private firm in Palarivattom, says that her daughter was often sleepy and also felt dizzy.
"I have noticed the dizziness many times, but was under the impression that my daughter was well taken care of at the centre. After all, there were 3 staff members and working mothers like me have only such centres to send our kids to. Our own parents do not live with us and quitting job is not an option for us. So we have no choice than to send our kids to such centres, thinking that they would take care of our kids," Deepa says.
Deepa's daughter will turn two in a couple of months and had been going to Kaliveedu since the past four months.
Since Kaliveedu (loosely translates to Play House in Malayalam) operates out of a house, this seems to be one of the reasons parents chose this centre over others.
"I thought it was a better option, since my child will get to be in a home environment even in my absence. But never did I anticipate such a turn of events," Deepa rues.
After inspecting the centre, Kochi Mayor Soumini Jain said that a detailed enquiry will be conducted against Kaliveedu and all the other day care centres in Kochi.
"We need to check whether Kaliveedu has a licence from the Corporation, which it claims to have. Action will be taken against the centre after verifying whether they have been functioning legally. We also need to ascertain whether such harassment has been meted out to the children for a long time. Necessary support will be given to the parents who wish to legally move against Kaliveedu," Mayor Soumini said.
Palarivattom Sub-Inspector Basil Thomas, who took staffer Mini into custody, told TNM:
"We had no idea about such a thing before, and we understand that the parents themselves had no clear idea about it. We haven't received any complaints against Kaliveedu in the past and came to know of the incident through media reports. Now, the parents of the child, who was beaten up has given a written complaint, on the basis of which, staffer Mini is in police custody. We will file a case against her under Juvenile Justice Act and record her arrest soon."
Following the media report, several Youth Congress members protested outside Kaliveedu. The members destroyed a sign board of the centre, amid shouting slogans. Members of the BJP also protested outside the centre.
Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights also sought a report on the matter. Ernakulam district collector, City Police Commissioner, Kochi Corporation Secretary and District Child Protector Officer, have been asked to submit a detailed report before the commission within 10 days.