Mumbai: Like Harry Potter and his colleagues at Hogwarts, children at the Kulgaon Badlapur Primary Municipal School bear brooms too. But for the latter, the floor brushes spell trouble instead of joyrides and wizardry. MiD DAY has visual evidence to prove that the students from classes I to VII are made to come an hour early every day to sweep the three-storey school building.
What's shocking is that the kids have been doing this for many years, as civic authorities claim there are few sweepers in the Badlapur area, and none appointed for municipal schools. The building houses two primary schools - the one from Manjarli area caters to 38 students and is run from the top floor, while the other from Belavli has 162 students and is run on the ground and first floors.
Aarti, one of the more senior students from the school, said, "Kids come in an hour before the school starts when it's their turn to sweep their classroom and the balcony on their floor."
Kiran Rathod, a class IV student from the school, who we found opening the building's gates early in the morning, said, "We arrive an hour before our scheduled time. One of the students has the keys so we can enter and start our job. Our teachers have asked us to do this. Students take turns in groups of twos and threes. The names are decided a day before."
Echoing the sentiments of Rathod, Vicky Chavan, a younger student, said, "I have often swept the floor here with other students. Every student's turn comes once in a while and we do it in groups."
Another female student, who didn't wish to be named, said, "Once a month they ask us to mop the classrooms with a wet cloth. We can't refuse as they are our teachers."
Ashish Damle, local corporator and chairman of the education committee, said, "I have recently been handed charge of the education committee. There is no education inspector for this area who can manage the schools. Moreover, I have only been sanctioned Rs 50,000 by the municipality to spend on education. I am helpless, but am trying to improve the condition of schools in our area. There are 5-6 sweepers in one ward. The population of Badlapur is now more than 2 lakh and there aren't enough sweepers to attend to schools. Things will take time to get better."
Experts made no bones about the detrimental effect the exercise was having on the kids' health. Dr Pradeep Bhosale, head of the orthopaedic department at KEM Hospital, said, "Such tedious work will surely have an adverse impact on the bones and joints of the children. It will affect their spinal chord and also upset their overall growth."
Jayant Jain, president of Forum for Fairness in Education, said, "This means that the students are treated like bonded labourers. Immediate action should be taken against those who make these kids sweep the building. The education department should investigate why there are no sweepers or guards at the school. Is it that they are shown appointed on paper, but are not present on the grounds and their salaries are going into someone else's pockets? Government should look into this grave matter. There are many schools in villages where students are made to cook mid-day meals. Who will be responsible if anything goes wrong at this school in the absence of teachers in the mornings?"
Nikita Ketkar, founder of Masoom NGO that works with schools, said, "So the school fails to appoint sweepers and hands students the brooms? Schools should make sure they hire at least one person to keep the buildings clean. Have they made a written application to get a sweeper? Are there PTA associations functional at the school?"
No of municipal schools in Badlapur area
The other side
Madhuri Ghaiwat, headmistress of the Belavli school, said, "We call students ahead of time because their parents go to work early in the morning, leaving them alone at their homes. We don't want them to get into any trouble. We have asked for guards to our school who can also sweep the building, but we haven't yet been provided any by the municipality. There is no post for an ayah. But students don't come to school to sweep the floors."