The common public in ancient Rome used the ‘organised shouting’ method to claim the attention of the elite. They chanted against Nero’s unreasonable tax collections, clamoured against hoarders in the streets during famine and screamed for the blood of criminals and Christians in stadiums. They believed in the high octaves of their collective outrage to get the authorities to act. The term ‘flagitate’—which means ‘demand earnestly’—was rooted in this throaty tradition.
It would be a stretch of imagination to assume that the Indian masses are influenced by the ancient Romans. However, flagitation is also known to lead the authorities here to often react without forethought or regard to justice. The heinous murder of a schoolchild in Ryan International School, Gurgaon, is one such case.
Witnesses claim to have been tortured. Parents have been lathicharged. And arrest warrants have been issued against the Pintos—the school chain’s Chairman, MD and CEO. They have got anticipatory bail for now, but karma demands they go to jail soon. Though there is no law against guilt by association, public pressure is driven by a fundamental law—moral responsibility.
Which leaves one to wonder why is the Railway Minister not arrested when a rail tragedy happens? Or, the transport minister not jailed for road accidents? Why does the health minister go free after kids suffocate to death in a hospital? Why isn’t the education minister punished when a child is murdered inside school premises—like at Ryan International?
Here, we come to Romans again. Emperor Hadrian specified different punishments for the social classes. The humiliores (humble persons) were condemned to hard labour in mines, flayed alive, thrown to wild beasts or crucified for a crime. For the same crime, honestiores (honourable persons) were only exiled, fined or subjected to a type of official dishonour called infamia— derived from the word fama. Fama means ‘what people say’.
So, what people say decides the fate of criminals, or the scapegoats. Certainly, Ryan International School flouted safety rules, took shortcuts while ascertaining the credentials of school bus staff and left CCTVs unrepaired; they should face the full wrath of the law. But, where does one draw the line on moral authority?
The social mores of Indian education is dismally skewed between the humiliores and the honestiores. The rich can afford air conditioned classes. One-third of the states do not provide electricity to the majority of government and rural schools. Ryan International is a school for rich kids. It has been revealed online that it charges Rs 100 for a nursery class application and brochure, Rs 700 admission fee, Rs 1,800 monthly tuition fee as per guidelines and Rs 45,000 as ‘building fees’.
Sure, education is a justifiably lucrative business—probably the reason why many powerful politicians own schools and colleges, or sit on the boards of some. However, the responsibility for a crime also lies on the parents who pay proxy donations, staff who care little about safety of students, managements, which fatten themselves on fees, and top bureaucrats and the education minister who are incharge of the system. It is the only way education in India will become truly the voice of awareness and responsibility.