A tragic accident and death of a 14 year old student in a Jesuit run school in Williamnagar town of the North-eastern state of Meghalaya has caused a major stir in the Garo hills region.
The incident took place on Tuesday September 24.
Following protests, the principal of the school, Jesuit Father Melwyn Fernandes was put under suspension by the Jesuit Education Council of Northeast India.
The family of the student registered a case against Father Melwyn on Wednesday. He was arrested and subsequently granted bail on various conditions laid down by the court.
“The principal was arrested on Wednesday and sent to judicial custody. They moved for bail in the court which was granted,” said East Garo Hills Superintendent of Police, Bruno A Sangma.
The incident took place on what was a regular school day, at about 10.30 AM. Fourteen year old Cherian Bemik M Sangma was part of a group of students who volunteered to shift six timber logs lying on the school ground.
“A group of five boys, that included Cherian on one side, lifted a log with the intention of throwing it off the field. The boys picked up the log to throw it but lost coordination. This resulted in the log falling on Cherian who was lifting it alone from the other side,” the Loyola fathers said.
Father Melwyn rushed the injured student to Williamnagar Civil Hospital but he was declared dead on arrival.
The incident sent shock waves through the school, particularly among its students and parents.
The civil hospital was mobbed with people and authorities had to confine the headmaster and other Jesuit priests in a room in the hospital to prevent any violence against them to erupt.
The Garo Students’ Union Eastern Zone immediately mobilized protesters, condemned the incident and blamed the school authorities for’ enforcing hard labour’ by way of carrying logs which led to the accident.
According to reliable reports on Thursday (Sept 23), the students of the school have refuted fake reports doing rounds on social media which claim that the victim was made to carry timber logs as part of a punishment by the principal.
The union demanded the removal of Fr Melwyn Fernandes and sought appropriate legal action against him for “his incautious and negligence that caused the loss of precious life of a student”.
With tempers flaring and the powerful students’ union baying ‘for justice’, the headmaster of the Jesuit education institute, Fr. Melwyn Fernandes was compelled to seek refuge inside Williamnagar police station on Tuesday night.
The remains of Cherian, who used to reside at Williamnagar Medical Colony, reached his home town in Rongjeng after post mortem on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people attended the funeral service of the 14-year-old as he was laid to rest at his hometown of Rongjeng.
The students union held a candlelight service at 5:30 pm on Wednesday (September 22) in front of the DC’s office to condole the death.
“It happened so fast; we never expected such an incident to happen. I had requested if any students would help and they all volunteered. Things happened so quickly we had no idea what had occurred initially. I myself lifted the boy and rushed him to the hospital but it was so shocking and tragic,” said Fr Fernandes told a local newspaper on Tuesday night
East Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner, Swapnil Tembe ordered a magisterial investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of the student.
The Association for Democracy and Empowerment (ADE) from Tura on Wednesday offered its deepest condolences to the family of late Cherian M Sangma . It issued a statement condemning the school authorities for engaging students in menial labour which led to the teenager’s death.
The statement of the Jesuit Council reads “The Education Council of Jesuit Society of Northeast India having learnt about the sudden and shocking death of Master Cherian Bimik M Sangma of Loyola School, Dawagre, East Garo Hills, has initiated an immediate inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of the student. In the meantime, the Council has suspended Principal, Fr Melwyn Fernandes, indefinitely. The untimely death of the young Cherian is heart-rending and the pain of his parents and relatives is unfathomable. The Council sincerely regrets the loss of life and is committed to the cause of truth and justice. Through this press release, the Council wishes to communicate to the parents their heartfelt condolences at the loss of their dear son”.