Editor's note: The rape conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has left the fate of many people in limbo. In the third of a four-part series, Firstpost speaks to the parents of children enrolled in Dera-run educational institutes and brings to light their worries about the future.
Sirsa, Haryana: The rape conviction of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has left the fate of around 7,000 children studying in schools and colleges of Dera Sacha Sauda up in the air.
Following Singh's conviction by a special CBI court, a curfew was imposed in parts of Sirsa, forcing schools and colleges to shut down.
While schools reopened on 16 September, all Dera-run institutions are under investigation.
While parents have been given some temporary relief — the district administration has announced they will oversee the functioning of the Dera institutions —they are still worried because officials have revealed that this is temporary.
The final fate of the Dera-run schools and colleges lie with the courts.
Seven Dera-run educational institutes have been shut since 24 August. This includes two boys’ schools, two girls’ schools, and one co-ed international school (Saint MSG Glorious International School). The Dera also ran a Polytechnic college and two undergraduate and graduate colleges, one especially for women.
Over 200 parents, students and teachers from educational institutions run by the Dera met Sirsa Additional Deputy Commissioner Munish Nagpal earlier this month and expressed their concerns.
Anand Kumar, whose daughter is studying in Class 7, said he was constantly enquiring with the Dera management about her school's status.
“We received two text messages saying that the school will be reopened soon. But we don't see any action," Kumar said.
Sheela Puniya, principal of the Shah Satnam Ji Girls School, confirmed that the district administration had ordered the schools reopened today. “We have begun informing parents. We will ensure that we make up for lost time and the students won't be affected," Puniya said.
Parents said that initially, government officials instructed them to enroll their children in other schools. Deputy Commissioner Prabhjot Singh told Firstpost he'd ordered all private schools in the district to accept any student from the Dera-run schools.
While the district education board on Saturday ordered that all educational institutes run by Dera be reopened, this move is temporary. Education officer Yagya Dutt Verma told Firstpost the order was an interim one.
“We will ensure that the schools reopen, but since all the Dera-owned assets are under investigation, it is the court that has to take the final call,” he said.
He further added that the courts had ordered the seizure of all Dera-owned companies and institutes and that their bank accounts be frozen.
"If the school wants to organise any event or even pay salaries, they will have to contact the district administration. The administration will then approach the court, which will take the final call," Verma said.
Many parents are still reluctant to change schools. They said they are satisfied with the quality of education their wards receive and the emphasis on extra-curricular activities too.
Some parents are also worried about having to shell out money to admit their children to other schools.
“We've paid our children's school fees for the entire year. We aren't even sure if we can get our money back," said Baba Gulab, who has three children enrolled in Dera-run schools. The fees in Dera's primary schools range from Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh per year.
Ramesh, whose daughter is studying in a Dera-run college, said she can only get admission into another institute after getting permission from the university, a lengthy and time-consuming process.
Parents said the biggest problem they faced was trying to explain to their children why they could no longer attend school. "My daughter keeps asking me what happened. She's eight! How can I explain that the religious head of the organisation that ran the school was convicted of rape and that's why her school is shut?" a parent, who did not wish to be named, said.
The authors are Haryana-based journalists and are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Sep 18, 2017 13:29:15 IST