8-year-old Sai Praveen died after he consumed food at the school.

Did schools negligence lead to mysterious death of a tribal boy in Chennai
news Negligence Tuesday, November 08, 2016 - 16:57

Over two weeks have passed since the death of eight-year-old Sai Praveen at the Devi Karumariamman Destitute Home in Chennai. With the passage of time, murkier details about the running of the Home have emerged, while questions still remain over the boy’s death.  

About 200 students – of which 100 are day scholars – study in the Saidapet school, which is often called the Narikuravar school because of the large number of children from the community studying there. According to Narikuravar (a nomadic tribe) community members, about 100 children are from Perambalur, Salem, and Cuddalore districts. While community members maintain that all the Narikuravar children have returned home, the Home claims that 37 children have come back to the school.

Speaking to The News Minute in the presence of the officials who run the Home, the children present at the school said that the school and the home are well-run and that they had no complaints. 

The interview was arranged in a classroom, in the presence of the Headmistress Jeeva,Trustee of the Association Chitra and a warden.

However, children of the Narikuravar community who have returned to their homes, say they will not go back. Most of them had joined the school this year after representatives of the Home ran a campaign in their villages.

Sai Praveen's grandfather Vaigandam, (86), said, “Wardens from the school came to our village asking to send our children to their institution. They said ‘We will provide them with good education and very good facilities in the hostel.’ So, we sent 80 students from our community from three districts in Tamil Nadu.” 

When these children said that they were treated well, Vaigandam said that 20 more children joined the school.

In the beginning, said 12-year-old Priyanka, Sai Praveen’s sister, things were fine. “The problem started when they started giving us donated food for several days. They would keep the food in the refrigerator and keep serving it. Often, we ate the same biriyani for three to four days. That is when my brother fell sick.” 

Jeeva said that the menu of the food comes from the Child Welfare Committee. “According to the CWC rules, we are not supposed to keep food for more than 24 hours. Also, the food is first tasted by the supervisor and then provided to the children,” she said.

Priyanka’s relative Meghla said that they were often beaten by the warden Raghupathy. She also said that the warden forced Praveen to eat the biryani two days before he died. Praveen was reportedly allergic to brinjal, and was forced to eat it by the staff at the Home. 

Priyanka said, “He had severe stomach ache for two days. After having biriyani for lunch on October 19, he developed stomach ache in the evening. They gave him warm water and said he will be fine. The next day, the pain continued and they took him to a hospital. Nurses gave him medicines there. He continued to be unwell,” she said. 

On October 21, at around 2am, Praveen started crying loudly. “They did not allow us to go see him. He was not even able to walk. At around 6am, he was rushed to a government hospital. The warden later told my grandfather that the doctor did not find a pulse on Praveen. He had to be rushed to the Royapettah (government) hospital in an auto because the ambulance did not come. He died on the way,” she said.  

Priyanka said that the school did not even allow the boy’s grandparents or relatives to see his body. “Till the post-mortem was over, no one was allowed to see my brother’s body,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Narikuravar community protested near the school over the death of Sai Praveen. They blame school for his death.

However, the school denies all the allegations, and claims that proper care was given to Sai Praveen. “On October 20, morning, Sai Praveen began having stomach ache so we gave him warm jeera water and made him go to the washroom. When he was again brought to me with fever, we sent him to a government hospital in Saidapet,” said Headmistress Jeeva.

Since there were no doctors and lab technicians at the hospital, the nurse gave him medicines and sent him back to the hostel. “He was doing fine in the evening. But the next morning, his pulse was low and we rushed him to the hospital,” Jeeva said.

On Friday morning (October 21), the government hospital in Saidapet asked the warden to take Praveen to the government hospital in Royapettah. There, Sai Praveen was declared brought dead.

While the Narikuravar community is firm that they will not send the children back, the school claims that some of the children have returned. “We sent the students back home early for Deepavali holidays and now they are slowly coming back. We had informed the parents about the situation,” said Chitra, a trustee of the school.

While the children at the hostel allege that boys and girls were made to use common toilets, the school denied this. “Every floor has separate washrooms for both boys and girls. There are eight washrooms in the hostel,” said Chitra.

She also claimed that health check-ups are conducted every three months. “Last month, before Sai Praveen fell sick there was a check-up and he was completely fine then,” said Chitra.

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