School should be the safest place for a child besides home. But on Friday morning, a seven-year-old boy was brutally murdered minutes after he had entered his class and then gone to the washroom.
The alleged killer, 42-year-old school bus conductor Ashok Kumar, slashed the boy with a knife from a bus toolkit he had brought to wash. Kumar told police he was stimulating himself inside the washroom when the boy walked in. So vicious was the knife attack that it split open the left side of the boy’s face from the ear to the throat. Little Pradhyumn Thakur, who was happily looking forward to a classmate’s birthday celebration when he left home, died in hospital.
The horror unfolded between 7.45 and 8 am at Ryan International School’s Bhondsi campus, where Pradhyumn was a Class 2 student. Police said they were probing a possible sexual assault on the boy by Kumar because a forensic test found traces of semen on his uniform — a sky blue shirt that was soaked with blood, and blue shorts. Police suspect Kumar tried to disrobe the boy and force himself on him, and struck him with the knife when the boy resisted. Kumar has been charged with murder and attempted sexual assault.
Pradhyumn, according to the junior school’s section in-charge Anju Dudeja, lay prone on the washroom floor writhing in pain and bleeding heavily from his wounds when he was discovered by school gardener Harpal, who had gone to the washroom to fetch water. The blood-stained knife was also on the floor.
The boy’s father Barun — a quality-control executive with a garment export company — had just reached home, walking distance from the school campus, when his wife received a call at 8.10 am from school that Pradhyumn had been found injured.
“I had walked my daughter (11) and Pradhyumn to the school gate, as I do every day. When I returned home, my wife got the phone call from Dudeja, from the school’s landline number. We rushed out and, on our way, got a call from Dudeja again to say my son was in Artemis hospital. When we reached the hospital, he had died. Someone had killed my son,” Barun told the police.
“They told me his health deteriorated suddenly. They did not take care of my son. He could have been saved if he had been taken to hospital in time,” Barun later told news agencies.
Police made the arrest late afternoon after poring through CCTV footage the school provided. Kumar, who is from Ghamroj village in Sohna and is himself father of two kids, admitted during interrogation he had killed the boy, police said.
“The accused said he was inside the toilet and was masturbating. We believe when he saw the student alone there, he caught him and tried to sexually assault him. When the boy tried to scream, he slit his throat,” said Ashok Bakshi, DCP (south), Gurgaon police. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights recommended a negligence case against the school, with several violations coming to light — access of others to the students’ washroom, for instance, and non-teaching staff being able to freely enter students’ circulation area within the school.
Since Kumar was a staffer of a bus operated by the school, Ryan also faced questions on whether it got police verifications done.
“We have told the police a case of negligence be registered against the school management as we have found the school did not undertake police verification of teaching and non-teaching staff,” Priyank Kanoongo, member RTE & education, NCPCR, told PTI.
Sumit Kuhar, DCP (crime), Gurgaon, said, “The accused is father of two children around 10-12 years old. The school’s transportation is under the supervision of Harkesh, who is also from Ghamroj. Harkesh had appointed Kumar as conductor on one of his buses eight months ago. Before this, the accused was working as a conductor with a private school bus in his village.”
Since exams are on at Ryan — there are a little over 1,000 students on the campus — the school did not meet for the morning assembly and the students went straight to class. “I was in Pradhyumn’s class at that time,” Dudeja told TOI.
“His class teacher Kamishki had gone with some students to participate in a competition with some schoolkids. Pradhyumn had not come inside the class. The gardener came running to me and said a kid was lying on the floor with blood all over him in the washroom. He pulled my hands and took me there.” The school said it didn’t waste a minute to take the kid to the nearest hospital.
Principal Neerja Batra said, “Exams are going on in the school, so we hadn’t called the kids out for assembly, instead we were doing it through the school’s PA system. At 8 am, Anju informed me such an incident had happened. Pradhyumn was alive when we took him to hospital. He was still breathing. I told my staff to take the student in a school van to Life Care Hospital, where he was given oxygen. However, to give the kid better treatment, he was taken to Artemis hospital.” Police said there were two cuts on the boy’s face, on the throat and below the ear, indicating he had been slashed twice. “We are waiting for the autopsy report,” Bakshi said.