It’s around 3 p.m. and the afternoon heat, unforgiving. Meena and Divya are returning from school, walking swiftly in their pink and white uniform, barefoot.
Several school-going children in the city, particularly those going to Corporation, government or aided school, are walking to school and back, without any footwear. “I don’t have a pair of chappals , so I don’t wear,” says Divya, a Class VI student.
“Miss [teacher] told us that it is important to wear footwear, but I do not have any,” says Meena. Asked how they manage to walk in the heat, she replies: “We walk everyday. Nothing happens.”
S. Mohanapriya also thinks there is no problem with that. “It is okay…our teacher does not scold us for it.”
It is not easy to make footwear compulsory in schools that have children from modest backgrounds go to, say heads of schools. According to M. Thirumani Vanitha, headmistress of the General Cariappa Higher Secondary School, many children cannot afford footwear and it was not of even remote concern to their parents.
“When children come from families that struggle to make both ends meet, parents are more than happy that their children get to attend school. They do not worry about anything else.”
So, on Wednesdays, when the school observes cleanliness day, teachers insist that the children maintain good personal hygiene, washing their feet often.
“The government could consider giving free footwear to these children. It is so depressing to see them walk on the road. Whether it is the heat or the rain, they have a very difficult time,” says the head of a corporation school, on condition of anonymity.
Parents, on their part, say their children are used to it. “Wearing shoes is not compulsory in their school. Moreover, the slippers we buy do not last too long,” says S. Chandra, a domestic help and mother of two school-going children.
Besides the heat and dust, the practice of travelling barefoot could have serious health implications, according to experts. Sujatha Sridharan, Assistant Professor of Paediatrics, Institute of Social Paediatrics, Government Stanley Medical College and Hospital, says walking barefoot could lead to problems such as worm infestation, infections due to thorn pricks or from other dangerous objects such as nails lying on the road.
“Moreover, children might step on unhygienic spots where people spit or defecate. It is very dangerous. Footwear is a must,” she emphasizes.