In Karnataka, a minor can deliver a baby in school without anyone having a clue she was pregnant

Morarji Desai Residential School scheme has placed tribal children at a serious disadvantage when compared with children in schools run by the Education Department.
In Karnataka, a minor can deliver a baby in school without anyone having a clue she was pregnant
In Karnataka, a minor can deliver a baby in school without anyone having a clue she was pregnant

​Fourteen-year-old Maya* gave birth to a child in the bathroom of her school in Chamarajanagar district on August 25. Bizarrely, the staff claim that they did not know she was pregnant until they heard the baby cry after the delivery. In the past two months, no one asked her why she had stopped wearing the school uniform, and instead attended in a long skirt and blouse and a shawl.

Maya*, a Soliga girl, was admitted in the Chamarajnagara Government hospital, several hours after she delivered the baby. When she enrolled at the MM Hills Morarji Desai School for tribal children for Class 5 in June, she was seven months pregnant.

On August 30, a tired and exhausted Maya was sleeping with the baby on a bed in the waiting room in the SNCU ward.

She said the father of the baby, Shivu, is her relative and that they had been in love for a couple of years. She said that only her mother knew about her pregnancy. 

"I didn't tell my father because he would have killed me. He often behaved violently. When my mother asked me to kill the child, I said I wanted to keep it. But my mother asked me to kill it once it was born and not bring it home," she said. 

Maya remembers being carried by a teacher named Ankappa to the toilet when she went into labour. But none of the school staff was with her when she gave birth.

The school cook Kempamma, says Maya had coffee and got dressed for class that morning. “About half-an-hour before the delivery, I heard some screams, but I thought it must be just the kids crying or fighting. When I was about to start cooking, Shruthi (a teacher) came running to me and asked me to go to the room where the girls slept. They asked me to drop everything and go and assist Maya. But by the time I went there, the girl had given birth in the toilet.”

Kempamma says that when she went to the bathroom-cum-toilet, Maya had already given birth and that she cut the umbilical cord, and waited until the placenta came out. Someone brought some hot water and a cloth to clean up the girl and the child.

The toilet where the child was born

“I waited there for some more time and kept asking her to feed the baby. But she refused and wasn’t lactating. The other cook got some ganji (porridge). We had to feed the child something so I gave it some diluted coffee decoction,” Kempamma claims.

What she said next perhaps sums up why the girl was neglected. “I was not in a position to call the police and I was very scared if the girl's family would beat me up.”

“Maya tried to strangle the child and herself while I was sitting there. I shouted out and stopped her a couple of times,” Kempamma alleges. Maya denies this.

The warden Bhavya arrived only at noon but the delivery occurred around 7am. A car was arranged to take the girl to her village. It dropped Maya and Kempamma upto the end of the motorable road. Then on, they had a 2km uphill climb.

“I carried the baby and Maya walked with me. All the while she kept asking me to let her go alone with the child. But I told her to do only what her parents tell her, because if she did something I would be responsible for it,” Kempamma claimed.

Maya did say that she did not want to go home and kept telling Kempamma that she wanted to be left to survive on her own.

At the village, Kempamma claims that Maya’s mother and grandmother started arguing with her for not letting the girl kill the child.

“I was scared that they would also kill the child. I stayed there until 8pm, after which the police and ambulance arrived.” It was that night that she was taken to the Chamarajanagar government hospital.

The bizarreness and shock over whole episode dissipates little when you actually go to the school Maya studies in, because then Maya’s circumstances stands out in an overwhelming atmosphere of neglect – by omission as well as commission.

Students in the school say that they saw Bhavya, the warden, for the first time on Saturday afternoon, the day Maya delivered the baby. Bhavya, however, maintained that she had not stayed over at the school because she has a child who lives at her home in Kollegal, a town about 10km downhill.

MM Hills police inspector, Venktesh said that Bhavya was also warden-in-charge in eight other tribal schools in the taluk.

Such a situation is hardly uncommon, says Shailendra, secretary of Karnataka Forest Dwellers Development Association. “I have visited many schools in Mysuru, Chamarajnagar and Madikeri districts. In many schools, wardens don’t stay over.. They only draw their salaries. Of all the districts, Chamarajnagar is one of the worst,” he said.

The Social Welfare Department of the Karnataka government launched the Morarji Desai Residential School scheme for tribal communities in 2011. But those who’ve monitored the schools since their inception, argue that the scheme may have placed tribal children at a serious disadvantage when compared with children in schools run by the Education Department.

Three quarters of the seats are reserved for the largest tribe in the area, the remaining seats are to be filled up by local SC or OBC children. All the children in Maya’s school – 42 boys and 58 girls – belong to the Soliga community.

According to the rules, each school should have eight staff in resident – four teachers, two caretakers, a warden and two cooks. Maya’s school however, has just half this number of permanent staff.

Children must be admitted in a class corresponding to their age. If children cannot cope with their classmates, they are to be provided with a bridge course and then admitted to school. Maya was one such student.

“These schools come under the Social Welfare Department. The focus is on overall development, but they aren’t enough staffed with people having expertise in education. Many under-trained staff are being appointed as teachers and wardens in these schools. Only a handful of about 100 have trained staff,” says Ashok Kumar, a member of Samagra Grameena Ashrama Samiti (SGAS). SGAS is an organisation working towards development of tribal schools in the state.

According to the rules, school children are also supposed to have regular medical check-ups. Bhavya said that no doctor had visited the school in nine months. While other staff claimed that a nurse had visited, no medical records have been maintained for any of the students.

A case of rape has been registered against Shivu (20) under POCSO. Shivu has been sent to judicial custody, and the Women and Child Welfare Department have taken the baby in their custody.

Around the time Maya gave birth to the baby in school, the media reported that the state government planned to erect a statue of Male Madeshwara atop the MM Hills at a cost of Rs 21 crore. Perhaps an equal amount of attention should be paid to those who live in those hills. 

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