Anatomy of a School Stampede

Based on the findings of a fact finding team that visited the Government Girls Senior Secondary School (GGSSS: 1104153), Khajuri Khas, Delhi where several girls got injured and five died in a stampede. The members of the team included Professor Azra Razzack, Dr Farah Farooqui, academics from Jamia Milia Islamia, Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA, Radhika Menon of Forum for Democratic Initiatives, Omprakash Sharma, Rahimuddin and Vinod Kumar of Building Workers Union, and Ram Abhilash of Delhi State Committee, CPIML. The activists of the building workers union also reside in the area hence information was collected by them on an ongoing basis.

Radhika Menon


Afroz Ansari, a student of Government Girls Senior Secondary School (GGSSS), Khajuri Khas, Northeast Delhi began her Ramzan fast as usual on the morning of 10 September 2009 and rushed to her school to appear for the first term examinations. A 17 year old student of class XI, she was seen as a serious student and was also the first in the family to have attained higher secondary education. A few hours after she had left, came the news from panic struck girls that Afroz was caught in a human crush on the stairs of her school supposedly because of the rains. When she had been pulled out from a pile of girls, she had already collapsed. Shamsheran, her mother, hurried to the school but with no one to inform her on what had happened. She then  rushed with several other parents to GTB Hospital, where after much confusion Afroz’s dead body, which had gone blue and had marks on the shoulder, body, and stomach, was handed over to her.
There were five girls killed, and 35 other girls who were injured in the hospital on that day. Several panic-struck girls returned home from the school itself without taking treatment. The dead included Ayesha Khatoon, Monica David, Latika Nagar, Afroz Ansari and Mumtaz Ali.
The Chief Minister of Delhi visited the hospital and announced compensations of Rs One lakh and Rs 15,000 for those injured, as parents mostly workers, raged over the pricing of their grief and anger. Protests spread. The Minister of Education in Delhi immediately took it as an opportunity to hold forth about his ongoing pet project Roopantar, a Public Private Partnership move, to reporting journalists.
A day later when our team of concerned academics and activists went to visit the homes of the girls killed, we found the parents still confused, the neighbourhood very angry and a busload of police parked at the entrances to the neighbourhood of the girls killed. A week later when the entire team visited again, no leaders of the ruling parties had still visited, several girls were under severe trauma and parents had no information from the school. No action was taken and blames were still not pinned down. The Deputy Commissioner of Delhi’s Northeast district was supposed to be conducting a magisterial enquiry and his report was said to have been tabled on 19 September 2009, the details had not been made public or communicated to the parents. Four school officials have apparently been suspended over the incident.
What emerged from our visit was more than a simple tale of girls caught in a human crush. What happened on 10 September 2009 at the GGSSS, is a chronicle of apathy and a microcosmic reflection of the status of the working poor, the situation of girls, the conditions of a vast mass of poor Muslims, and the state of education and schooling in the national capital.

The School and its setting

It is impossible to understand what happened in the school without looking at the context of the surrounding neighbourhood. Northeast Delhi, is a minority dominated district, with a population of 17, 63,712 in the 2001 census. While a section of the population lives in the earlier village settlements, a majority live in the unauthorised colonies waiting for government recognition and having a high density of population. A substantial section of the students of the GGSSS come from Khajuri Khas and Sonia Vihar, two highly neglected unauthorised colonies. A large number of the victims of the stampede come from ‘Kacchi’ Khajuri, the unauthorised part, while the school is located in an area called ‘Pucci’ Khajuri. The Pushta road separates the two Khajuris and students have to cross the extremely accident prone, high traffic road to reach the school. For many students the walk from Sriram colony and Rajiv colony in Kacchi Khajuri area to the school in Pucci Khajuri is a very long one.
An MCD school up to elementary level exists in Rajiv Colony (in Kacchi Khajuri) and parents have been wanting that this school be upgraded to Class XII, to at least accommodate the girls from the area, but no moves have been made to consider this.
A constant refrain of the students and the parents was the neglect of the Kacchi Khajuri area. It is to be noted that this part is dominated largely by Muslim workers. Those engaged in skilled work also sell their labour as employees in shops and factories and very few people here are engaged in any independent trade. Mainly migrant workers from western Uttar Pradesh they have been settled here for the last 20 years and more. Even though many of the houses are owner occupied, they were unplastered constructions with hardly any infrastructure in terms of water and drainage. As a result of the rains, the lanes were slush pools and difficult to traverse without falling into piles of refuse. The Pucci Khajuri was relatively better endowed. Several houses in the area are well designed and the state of the streets was relatively better. Many people, including very young children, from Kacchi Khajuri went to Pucci Khajuri to fetch drinking water. The Pucci Khajuri is predominated by the Gurjar community, who have made their wealth from selling ancestral land to builders and are also engaged in the trades. While five government schools (two of which operate in shifts), the dispensary and the ration shop are all in Pucci Khajuri, Kacchi Khajuri only has the police station. All this has only built up the perception amongst the residents that the area was being neglected because they were poor working class Muslims. 
The residents have long been calling for a ration shop, and upgradation of the school in the area. However amongst their grievance was that neither the Ward Councillor (Rambeer from Congress), the MLA (Mohan Singh Bisht of BJP) nor the MP (Jaiprakash Aggarwal of Congress) in the area had responded to their concerns. They had not even paid them any visit after the tragedy that took the lives of the girls. Most persons that the team spoke to were also agitated against the brokers of ruling parties in their area who they felt were making moves to silence the anger and protests of the parents and residents following the stampede.
Infrastructural issues: The GGSSS like most other schools in the area is a double-shift school building. As in most parts of the city, the morning shift is for the girls and the evening shift for the boys, when it gets to be called as the GBSSS. The school building is far too inadequate to accommodate the number of students enrolled in the school. The girls’ school alone has a strength of 2680 students, while the school only has 39 semi pucca rooms. Our team’s visit showed that several rooms were completely unusable and on 9 September too, the strength present in the school was 2668 students. Obviously this number itself is far too large for the school to accommodate in its current form (68 students per room) and classes were held in broken structures, under a tree, in the ground. In Delhi’s extreme climates, the children thus were exposed to rain, storm, sunstrokes and winter chill. The chowkidar of the morning school, who was the only person available in the school a week after the incident, mentioned that the school principal had written to the administration that their school infrastructure could not support further enrolment, but without any response.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan operates in this school too. But notably, there is absolutely no signs of any impact of the cess and claims to quality improvement. In fact the upper primary classes from VI–VIII are the worst off, which are held in tin roofed structures which are on the verge of collapse. On 10 September, rain poured in through the gaping holes into the classroom which was already flooded because of the previous few days’ rain. The evacuation announcement by a teacher or a principal of the boys’ school (not clear) led to students rushing out of the class for appearing in the examination and running towards the main building. However, this building is seriously flawed with a single stairway, which became a death trap for the girls. This stairway was dark even on a sunny day substantiating the version of the students that it was impossible to see on the day of the incident when it was cloudy. The stairs had holes in them which could easily trap the feet of children running up and down. The school apparently hardly ever has electricity. The question is – why did the school only have one stairway and that too constructed in a manner that defeated any norms of safety? Why were repairs not undertaken on time? Why were no administrative checks held to assess the condition of the school and what prevented action earlier?
Most classrooms did not have enough durries for children to sit on, let alone desks – which were limited to a few sections of some senior classes. Students claimed that when they complained, the teachers would ask them to get durries from home to sit on. The classrooms also have a single entrance and are veritable coops which could easily become a trap and possibly also acted as one on that particular day.

Gender Bias in Curriculum

Significantly, the lack of seriousness on the part of the government to empower girls is visible not only in the administrative apathy over infrastructure, but also in the curriculum. Only 2 schools for the girls out of the 38 government schools in the zone offer science as a stream of study for girls at the senior secondary level; and two others which do so are co-educational. Notably, neither of the two girls’ senior secondary schools in Khajuri Khas has the science stream, in fact the boys’ school in the evening shift has science while the girls’ school doesn’t. Is it that the authorities see science education as wasted on the girls of the labouring poor?
Most of the teachers’ attitude towards the children was offensive according to the students; very few empathised with them.

Sexual Assault and Gender Segregation

As the boys pushed their way up the stairs that day, a few of the older boys hooted and screamed at the girls to frighten them. Many of these boys were not in uniforms and had covered their faces with handkerchiefs, and the girls felt they may not have been school students. Unaware of the orders that had brought the boys up, the girls panicked. In the gender-segregated school set up, the move to accommodate the boys for the examination without taking the girls into confidence or making necessary preparation especially given cases of teasing earlier was indeed a mistake. Several girls mentioned that the chaos only increased as teachers either remained in the staff room or vanished when the chaos aggravated. Nazreen mentioned how a woman teacher was threatened in no uncertain terms that she would be flung down the stairs by a couple of handkerchief masked boys. According to the claims made by children in Kacchi Khajuri, the boys from Pucci Khajuri are fairly rowdy as they are arrogant about their better monetary status, muscle power and clout in the area. Significantly the boys who attend the second shift school are mainly Gurjar boys from settled families of Pucci Khajuri, while working class Muslim boys from Kacchi Khajuri rarely go to school beyond class VIII, IX and X, as they start working as apprentices or labourers to support the families. The girls on the other hand from Kacchi Khajuri go to school, and their education is also seen as desirable. However as Chandni, a Class XII girl clarifies, this has not been so easy. The girls are constantly negotiating with their families to ensure that they can pursue their studies. But the events of 10 September 2009 have changed many things. Several girls who witnessed the incidents or got caught in it are terrified of school.
As the girls rushed down upon seeing the boys and a steady of stream of boys went up as per the instruction, at least some of the latter started misbehaving with the girls, groping and molesting them. A few of the boys were said to be carrying blades wrapped in a kerchief in their hand and went about ripping the clothes of girls who were coming down and protesting the hooliganism. When the girls started tripping, there was no one left to control the situation. We also met a girl who had been bitten badly. Later a few of the boys also helped the injured, but for the girls there was no differentiating them. And several girls we met were under immense trauma and now refuse to go to school and don’t care anymore about schooling. Compounding the problem is that many students recollect the ill-treatment mete out on a daily basis to the parents who visit school for scholarship enquiries.
The younger boys from Kacchi Khajuri are a scared of bullying by the older boys of the school in Pucci Khajuri. As the bullies often hang around with non-school lumpen elements, they are scared to complain or protest. Worse many of them, like Kamran who studies in class VIII and Bahar who studies in Class VII, of Kacchi Khajuri now fear that instead of picking the real culprits the police would start harassing them.
No action has been taken against the hooligan elements in the area, they often hang around the gate when the girls leave school at 12. 30 p.m., taking advantage of the beginning of the boys shift. Many who hang around are not even school students and there is no one to stop them from making lewd comments on passing girls. While no reports have been filed in the police station, this is not an unknown fact either to the police and school authorities.
A parent agonised on the situation: “When we didn’t educate our children, we were called illiterate and now that we want to educate our kids our security itself is at stake.” Yet another observed that Ladli schemes promised them money when girl students complete their Class XII. But when girls drop out due to the overall apathy on the part of the government, the Government would be saved the trouble of paying the promised amount.
The magisterial report has apparently denied the occurrence of sexual assault.  

Dearth of Medical Care

Many of the girls still lie injured and traumatised at home (after their panicked parents brought them back from hospital or school on that fateful day), minus any medical treatment. Shama Parveen, a Class VII student was suffering from headaches after having fallen on her head. No scans have been done and no medicines provided to her as her parents are too poor treat her (not just the medical cost; even the cost of transport is a deterrent, and these parents have had to miss wages for some days due to the calamity). Sajida lies listless with aches and fears and is getting treatment from a local practitioner. According to her mother, she said had fainted on the stairs after having run down after seeing a girl with clothes ripped by the boys’ blades. Anupama, who lives in Pucci Khajuri is also hurt and is delirious with fright. Her father, Balwinder, a policeman posted in South Delhi is aghast at the way the school became a space for girls to be attacked. In spite of being a sub-inspector and the only parent with any job of authority amongst the parents of those injured and dead, he feels as helpless. The girls that the team met recounted the chaos, harassment and negligence on part of the school management.
Shabana, a Class XII girl and Shahana of Class VII like other girls categorically refuse to go to the school unless a school is set up at Kacchi Khajuri. Both had fainted at the sight of the stampede and the hooliganism of certain boys.

Concluding remarks:

The sequence of events and its context raise fundamental questions about nature of education being provided to children of the labouring poor and marginalised sections of society. The quality of the school infrastructure, the teacher-student ratios, basic norms of security and school planning, sexual harassment in schools, the denial of science as an option for the girls, all indicate the lackadaisical attitude of the state government in the education of children.
The infrastructural concerns, the government is hoping to settle with publicity campaigns of its public private partnership (PPP) project Roopantar. But as evident at Khajuri Khas schools, the infrastructural problems are outcomes of deep fissures of our society and the resulting social and political marginalisation. Unless these are tackled, schools willy-nilly begin to accommodate them. In the same school, the much hyped and funded Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan with its retinue of Consultants has done little to change elementary schooling. A government which has budgeted thousands of crores of rupees for the Commonwealth Games is obviously not short of money, yet it claims that it cannot improve the status of the schools without privatised PPP projects. It seems, though, that plans are afoot to harness the free labour of children as volunteers for the Games!  
The policies of the government, including that of setting up different kinds of schooling for children from different backgrounds, on the pretext of different abilities in the form of Pratibha Vidyalayas, Sarvodaya Vidyalaya and ordinary government schools is only aggravating social marginalisation further. The more marginalised the social economic status of the child, the greater the chances that he/she will end up in the lowest hierarchy of the government school system. Such a system of divisive schooling must inevitably go so that everyone has access to equitable quality of state-funded schooling.
Specifically, in the case of the stampede-affected school the following must be immediately done to ensure justice for the victims and to make sure girls’ education is not adversely affected.
1.     Conduct an enquiry wherein the girls are allowed to give their statements within their colony.
2.     Investigate the role of miscreants in the events of 10 September 2009 in provoking the stampede; identify and punish the boys who engaged in sexual harassment and assault.
3.     Provide necessary free treatment, medicines and transport costs to girls who have been through the trauma. The State government must deploy necessary health facilities near the residence of the girls to ensure that treatment is taken. Trauma care, including counselling must be provided in the localities of residence for the affected school girls.
4.     Take action against the school authorities because of whose negligence the stampede occurred.
5.     Ensure the security of the students in the school by preventing hooligans from hanging around the campus.
6.     Ensure a curriculum for the boys in all schools that encourages healthy attitudes towards women.
7.     Ensure wider options for girls’ education in terms of subject and stream choice
8.     Increase the capacities of the school s to maintain the acceptable teacher student ratio. Open new schools of senior secondary education including up gradation of existing schools. Immediately start a senior secondary school in Kacchi Khajuri.
9.     Health, ration, infrastructure and other needs of the community must be fulfilled in Kacchi Khajuri which has been facing neglect and official apathy.

10.     The Delhi Education Minister must take moral responsibility and resign for the failure of his ministry to ensure basic safety norms and objectives of education in schools under his responsibility.