It has been a year since young Hrishikesh Sarode died during a fight in classroom over a paltry sum of Rs 5 but the incident and the lively boy are still etched in the minds of his classmates. It is reflected in what Ajay Sontakke (16) had to say when asked about his life’s goal, “Once I grow up, I want to work on something that will ensure government schools do not ask students to undertake project work. They should not involve students in anything that involves money, it is too dangerous,” said Sontakke, a classmate who lives in the colony the Sarodes stay.
Hrishikesh died during an altercation that turned violent over money for their school project, and the fight was over Rs 5 for photocopying the project. Hrishikesh’s family still waits for government compensation. Hrishikesh, a student of Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation school in Pimprigaon died after he was pushed by his classmate during the fight. Reports say the class was left unattended by teachers when the fight erupted.
“We were in right in class when this happened. At first we thought he has just taken a bad turn during the fight, but in the afternoon we were told he has died,” said Sanjay Suryawanshi, another friend of Hrishikesh. His death still haunts them, and they confess they are afraid of going to school.
Hrishikesh was the youngest of four children of Sangita and Bapu Sarode who eke out a living by working in the unorganized sector. Sangita is a waste picker, Bapu works in makeshift factories that manufacture idols for festivals.”
“He was the liveliest of the lot, always up to mischief and making us laugh with his antics,” recalls his mother and remembers how a year back Hrishikesh was reluctant to let her go to work. “He kept running after the autorickshaw and asking me not to go to work. As Diwali was nearing, I gave him Rs 60 asking him to get a proper hair cut,” she said.
His friends and parents remember how Hrishikesh took the lead in festivities in the neighbourhood. “We celebrated festivals together. It was his plan that all friends should shop for crackers and clothes from the same shop. Last year, we were to go for shopping when tragedy stuck. Since then, none of us have done anything special in terms of clothes or crackers. In our colony, ours are the only houses that do not have any celebration for Diwali,” said Sontakke. On Tuesday, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat, an organisation of waste pickers in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad, held a demonstration to highlight inaction of authorities over Hrishikesh’s death.
Investigations by police and the school board held the principal and the classteacher responsible and both had been suspended. Sarodes are yet to receive any compensation from the government.
“We had gone to the MLA, and the corporator. No one helped us. During this election political parties did not come to us for votes or else I would have given them an earful,” said Sarode.
As they talked about the hapless conditions the poor pass through every day, the only thing that crossed Sontakke’s young mind was to ensure no one involves students in activities that cost money. “There should be a law prohibiting teachers from giving projects which will entail us to take photocopies as it would involve money. Our friend was killed for just Rs 5,” he said.