Two students held a press conference last week to raise the issue of kids in their school carrying heavy bags to class every day. A few days later, their efforts paid off and the school authorities installed lockers.
“I don’t want to be called a ‘hero’. I don’t want to be a hero until all kids can get rid of their heavy bags,” says Rugved Raikwar who, along with his friend Paritosh, successfully managed to get his school in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, to lessen the burden on the backs of school kids recently. The two pre-teen boys held an audacious press conference on the issue of children having to carry overloaded schoolbags to class every day.
In April 2015, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Chembur-based social worker Swati Patil, seeking a directive to the Maharashtra state government for implementing its own rules issued in 2006 to ensure that children do not have to carry heavy bags to school daily.
In her petition, Swati relied on a certificate issued by a doctor from the government KEM hospital, stating that children may suffer from backaches, spondylosis, neck pain, and other orthopedic problems if they continue to carry heavy bags regularly.
After a prolonged hearing, the Bombay High Court finally ordered on March 31, 2016, that schools should reduce the weight of the bags carried to schools by students.
The state issued a circular to schools, fixing the responsibility on principals and school management to follow the directive or face action for not obeying this rule. The circular is binding on all 1.06 lakh schools in Maharashtra.
Twelve-year-old Rugved Raikwar, a student of Vidya Niketan School, had no clue about this new rule until he watched the Education Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Vinod Tawde, addressing the press proudly about this positive change being implemented in the state on television.
Rugved asked his uncle to confirm the news. He was surprised by the fact that even by July 2016, three months after the High Court’s order, the rule was not being followed by his school. He had to carry a bag weighing 4-5 kg to school every day.
Rugved discussed this with his schoolmate Paritosh and both kids pleaded their case with the Principal by writing a letter. However, there was no response from the school authorities. They also tried calling the Education Minister of Maharashtra but could not speak with him.
Rugved, who stays with his maternal uncle Mayur Raikwar in Chandrapur, had been to a press conference with his uncle once and seen how issues raised by the press often get resolved sooner that they would otherwise.
So he approached a local senior reporter named Mr.Pramod Kakde, along with his friend Paritosh. The kids expressed their desire to hold a press conference to talk about their grievances.
On August 22, their wish was fulfilled. The two students held a press conference and spoke in front of many reporters about the issue of heavy schoolbags.
“We carry a minimum of 16 books for 8 subjects daily and sometimes their number increases to 18 or 20, depending upon the subjects for which the classes would be held for the day. Our school bags weigh between 5-7 kg and it’s exhausting to carry them to our classroom located on the third floor,” the Class 7 boys told the reporters.
The boys also said that if the school did not address their grievances they would go on a hunger strike until their demands were met.
“A few reporters asked me whether I was afraid my teachers would not like my holding a press conference. I told them that the teachers may punish me for it but that punishment would be far less than the weight we carry every day,” said Rugved.
After the press conference, as the news spread to major newspapers, the school authorities were upset with the two kids for what they had done. As a result, Paritosh’s parents asked him stop speaking publicly on the subject anymore. Rugved also had to face some opposition in his school but he did not back down because his family was supportive of the stand he had taken.
However, finally, the efforts of the two children paid off and lockers were installed on the school premises for students. They could now keep their textbooks and other study materials at school, instead of lugging them back and forth from home every day in heavy school bags. All this happened on August 24, within just two days of the press conference.
Rugved, however, says the battle is not over. He may have been instrumental in reducing the weight of schoolbags for his fellow students at Vidya Niketan, but he now wants to take the fight to every primary and high school student in India.
“I will try to speak to the Education Minister about this and ask his help to implement this rule in each and every school. I appeal to all the parents through your website to support their children and help us to implement this positive change all over the country,” said Rugved.
To support his campaign, you can write to Rugved at [email protected].