A curious anomaly of indian primary-secondary education is the literally heavy burden that even tiny children have to bear because they are obliged to lug a heavy load of text and notebooks to and from schools every day. In Maharashtra following several PIL (public interest litigation) writ petitions filed against the state government for failure to outlaw this torture of children, in April 2016, in an interim order against a writ filed in 2015, a bench of the Bombay high court suggested several ways and means — lockers in schools, one notebook for all math subjects, schools to store textbooks etc. Subsequently, the Kerala and Madras high courts also made similar suggestions.
In July 2015, the Maharashtra government had issued a circular to all school managements to ensure the weight of students’ school bags and backpacks be limited to 10 percent of their body weight. This was after the state government admitted that children were carrying school bags 20-30 percent heavier and consequently, at least 60 percent of children below age ten are suffering from orthopaedic as well as stress-related ailments.
On December 11, the state government released the findings of a survey claiming 98.77 percent of school students carry school bags of less than 10 percent of their body weight. This survey is being fiercely contested by social activists who contend that the survey results have been exaggerated to cover up the state government’s inaction to make school bags lighter, despite students being affected with medical ailments due to carrying of heavy school bags.
The state education department’s survey claims to have covered 417,000 students in over 23,000 government, corporation and zilla parishad schools over the period August-October 2018. According to the survey, only 5,000 of the surveyed students, i.e, 1.23 percent were carrying heavy school bags. In Mumbai district, of the 33,376 students surveyed, only 123 students were found to be carrying overweight bags.
“The survey results cannot be trusted since it was conducted during a period when schools had examinations and in absence of regular classes, students weren’t carrying all their books. We have also found a discrepancy in the number of schools mentioned by village level administrations — zilla parishads — and the education ministry. Such loopholes raise questions about the authenticity of this survey,” says social activist Swati Patil, president of the Lok Jagruti Samajik Sansthan, and a petitioner.
Although a bench of the Kerala high court while hearing a writ petition (WP-C No.35193/2018) in October has suggested in-school lockers for students to store their books — a universal practice — this judicial recommendation hasn’t found much traction with the Maharashtra government. Perhaps because the cash-strapped BJP-Shiv Sena government blanches at the prospect of installing lockers in its 66,946 government schools statewide.
Private school managements continuously under pressure from subsidies-addicted middle class parents aspiring for first world education at third world prices, aren’t too enthusiastic either. That’s why Maharashtra’s 15.98 million in-school children continue to suffer the heavy weight of school bags on a daily basis.
Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)