Published: 08th February 2018
Should the differently-abled be denied a normal education?
The petitioners argued that the boy was slow but not incapable of giving the exam, which the school refuted calling him "unfit" to give the Class X Boards
“My country right or wrong”, is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying “My mother, drunk or sober.” – G K Chesterton, English writer (1874-1936).
If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O’ mother o’ mine.
Rudyard Kipling, Bombay-born writer noted for The Jungle Book (1865-1936).
The above verses reflect the traditional bond and love of the mother to the child and vice versa. Here “mother” embraces “ father” giving the broader scene of parental love. That love drives parents to nurture the feeling that the world should share their burden and feelings about their mentally and physically handicapped children. Some parents are agonised when this does not happen - as reflected in the following report published in the media on February 4, 2018. But, first the facts-
The Bombay High Court has refused to grant relief to a 16-year-old autistic boy whose parents had approached it seeking that he be allowed to sit for the Class X exam this year. In an order a bench of Justices B R Gavai and B P Colabawalla, however, suggested that the parents consider shifting the boy to a school that caters to children with special needs and that he take the exam at another suitable time.
The boy currently studies in a regular private ICSE school in Bandra, Mumbai. As per the petitioners, the boy “has no problem in understanding and writing his lessons but he simply requires more time than an average student” to do so. However, his school has refused him permission to appear for the Class X final exams.
The boy’s parents had cited previous judgements of the high court that allowed autistic children to study in regular schools as long as the school arranged for a shadow teacher for such a student, and made other requisite special arrangements. The petitioners also submitted that the state human rights commission, while dealing with a similar case last year, had permitted the child concerned to continue at a regular school.
“He has been studying in the same school since he was in the first standard. There was no problem in the last nine years. We have even paid his fees for this school year. However, now he is not being allowed to sit for the Class X final exams. “If we are forced to shift him to another school now, he will end up losing a full academic year,” the boy’s father said.
School authorities, however, opposed the plea, saying the boy was “unfit” to appear for the Class X exams this year. “While his writing skills are okay and he makes no spelling mistakes, his sentences do not make any sense. He is not merely slow but he has the understanding of a student of standard I or II,” the counsel for the school told the court.
The bench took note of the school’s submissions and said that it would perhaps be better for all parties if the boy was shifted to a school with an “alternate curriculum.” “Taking an adversarial stand vis-a-vis the school will not be helpful either for (you) or for your child. Why not send him to a school that will cater to all his needs,” the bench said.
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(John Monteiro is a lecturer who drifted into writing and journalism. He has authored three books and is the founder of the Bondel Laughter Club in Mangalore)