Bus tragedy victim buried amid calls to shut down school and to take stringent action against those responsible for her death

May 20, 2010

Sarah Gazdhar, the four-year-old Indian girl who died of suffocation after she was left alone for four hours in a locked school bus, was buried at Abu Hamour in Doha as Qataris and Indians have called for stringent action against careless schools.

Sarah’s family, from Jodhpur in India’s Rajasthan state, made on Tuesday the decision to bury their daughter in Doha.

The body of the child who died on Monday after the driver parked and locked the bus without realizing that she was asleep in her seat, was kept at Hamad Hospital mortuary for people to pay respects. A large number of Indians attended the funeral.

With Qatar still reeling from the shock of Sarah’s death, the Qatari Institution for Child and Woman Protection has urged the authorities to shut down the school and to take legal action against the people responsible for her death.

The institute said that the education authorities should monitor more closely all private schools and ensure that they appoint social experts and supervisors both at the schools and on the buses.

“The appointments of supervisors will help avoid all kinds of deviations, errors, misjudgments, and all forms of harassment,” the institute said in a statement.

“Community schools are under Qatari laws and as such they should abide by the local legislation on child and women protection.”

Fareeda Al Abidili, the head of the institute, said that the deplorable incident should serve as a strong reminder about the significance of child safety regulations.

“Having supervisors or chaperones on the school bus is a requirement to ensure the safety and well being of the children. The bus should not be seen just as a vehicle to transport children. It should also be seen as a safe and secure place for all children, regardless of their age,” she said.

Al Abidili said that a five-year-old girl was last year forgotten in her private school bus and remained alone from morning until noon.

“By the grace of God, she did not die from suffocation, but was very scared and in a state of panic,” she said.

Al Abdili pledged support from the institute to Sarah’s family, saying that they needed “full compassion in such critical times.”

The school and other Indian schools have also come under intense fire from their own community amid accusations that they had failed to do justice despite their “huge” fees.

According to Qatari daily Gulf Times, “most Indian parents appeared helpless on the issue of their children’s safety, security and academics at the expatriate schools. In the absence of a common platform to take up the issues, they do not know how and where to vent their grievances as most schools ignore the basic requirements.”

“Everyone knows that schools in the Gulf are a thriving business. But they should have a commitment towards the community as they are involved in education, which has greater implications on the children’s future,” an unnamed parent said, quoted by the paper

 “Parents send their children to school in the hope that they will be well taken care of by the school. And we pay the fee. However, it is doubtful if the schools are giving due importance to this point,” said another parent. 

Parents said that the transport departments at most schools were inadequate, with many complaining about the bus staff ill-treating their children.

Even though the buses have attendants some hesitate even to help children cross busy roads while many parents have complained about school buses operating without proper air-conditioning systems.   

A father whose children are studying at one of the leading schools said the institution paid more attention to events not related to academics.

“Precious school hours are wasted for such activities and the children are either asked to stay back or summoned in the afternoons in the name of practice, and with total disregard for academics.” 

The parent also complained that the school keeps students out in the open for long periods of time in the name of such events that would, according to school officials, bring fame.

Some ignorant parents let their children take part in such events thinking they are part of the new assessment system of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

Most parents feel the quality of education by the Indian schools is poor despite tall claims made by the institutions.

“The real academic standard of the children is known only when they compete in entrance examinations for professional courses in India after completing their schooling in the region’s so-called prestigious Indian educational institutions. Only a few students from the local schools secure merit seats,” said a mother whose children passed with “flying colours” locally but could not qualify for a professional course in her home state. The family had pay huge sums to secure them professional seats on NRI quota.

A parent attributes this low academic standard to the schools’ insistence on “finishing the portions and conducting tests” without considering whether the children understood the concept. When the students secure low marks, they are forced to go for tuitions.

However, many times tuitions too fail to provide the concepts to the students though they manage to get good marks.

“This could perhaps be one of the reasons why expatriate children fumble when they go for higher education,” he said, according to the paper.

Most parents said that the Indian embassy in Qatar should take the lead in establishing a school under its aegis as is done in some other Gulf countries. The parents would have a clear say in running such a school which would cater to all sections of the community, they said.

“Such an institution will attach more importance to safety, security and good academic standards,” a parent said. “The embassy should have a clear say on the affiliation of schools adopting the CBSE curriculum. If required, the CBSE rules should be amended.”

Most schools did not attach much importance to parent-teacher associations, a requirement mandated by the CBSE. Parents feel the PTAs exist only in name and just to impress CBSE officials who visit schools for inspections.





About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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