“My son was scared to go to school.” A searing admission that would disturb any parent. Except that this was Durba Mukherjee’s daily reality for months.
“When I look back, I was thinking that I was protecting my boy,” Durba Mukherjee, a single mom of one told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “But you can see I failed. I failed to protect my boy.”
It was the summer of 2018 when Arka Chakraborty, then 10 years old, immigrated to Canada with his mother.
Click for video transcription
Thank you, Lianne thank you for reaching out to me.
I wanted to start by asking you, how would you go about trying to encapsulate the last two years or so how you’ve gone about coping with the loss of your son.
It was very difficult. My when I immigrated to Canada, you know, the decision was solely mine. And I discussed with only my son. Not everybody was comfortable that me moving out of my country and moving to a completely different place, along with a small child. So I felt guilty. I was blamed. You know, I’m an Indian woman. And in India, a woman taking some step like this, that’s not perceived that well, you know, they’re supposed to conform with all the social norms and everything. But I think I broke quite a few that I broke my marriage, then later, I decided to take my son to a different country. But I did all this to give my son a better place to grow up. So that I was not prepared that that will cost me so much. And we were so happy, we were very close. And we were like friends. So for me, at one shot, I was completely lonely. I mean, other than my son, nobody understood me that well. So it was very difficult. Secondly, as a new immigrant, I was not aware of different agencies or avenues where I can reach out to, and the place where I was living in, people did not even know me. They knew my child because my son used to play in the park. And though, specifically, the dog and cat parents, they knew my boy very well, because my son used to play with those animals. But people did not know me in person. I used to come home after work. And I used to stay at home, preparing food and sitting with my son for studies and all that. So I didn’t even in weekends, I used to take him for the hobby classes. So I was quite busy. I didn’t socialize much with my neighbors. And they also did not know me, so I completely became lonely. I had my office staff. They actually helped me a lot to deal with it. But other than that, and when I and the way it happened, there were a lot of open questions. You know, and I reached out to whoever I called, I reached out to the school superintendent, the trustee, and their email address I found in the school website. And then I reached out to my city councillor, my MPP, my MP so many people, but well, the image on the police chief, the Indian Embassy, so many people reached out to for the answers. I did not get much cooperation and the investigating agency specifically police. I was expecting that. Okay, I do understand that police deals with death so frequently. So it is not an emotional affair, like it is to me. Still, I thought they would be interested to know how did a 12 year old boy fall down from a 24 storey neighborhood high rise where he did not even have access to you know, but I didn’t see that. Coming from the system. Nobody was willing to find out what actually went wrong. And the bullying piece. My son was bullied for eight months before his passing, and so many times I reached out to school, my son was once assaulted so severely that I had to take him to Sunnybrook Hospital, I had to call the cops, I do have the report from Toronto Police Service, I reached out to school, my son was put for counseling by a social worker from Toronto District School Board.
And I was asked to put him in self defense class, I did that. So I did everything that I could, even just before, just the day before his passing, because of that round of pooling that was going on, my son asked me to reach out to the child Aid Society, I did that as well, on June 28 2019. And they told that they generally do not intervene when it is a peer to peer violence. So only when some adult caregiver abuses a child, then they can intervene. So they asked me to reach the school again, but I already reached out to them. And that didn’t help. So I really do not know what else I could have done to save my boy. And then there was an incident regarding that Nintendo Switch that got lost. And if you see the documentation that I received from school, the school records, in the response to my freedom of information request, I have received that email copy, redacted email copy of the accuser parent who accused my son of theft. In that email, it is clearly documented that my son, he got the missing console from the boy who was bullying him. And next day, he got to know that another boy, it is his console, he lost it. The moment he got to know that very day, just after school, my son did not even wait for his mom to come home. He brought that boy to my place and immediately handed over the console. The boy took the console home, and then only his parents got to know the console went missing the previous day. Now it is back, because my son gave it back. After that he emailed to school, accusing my son of theft, hacking and whatnot. A lot of things I found in that email, they are not consistent. I’m a computer engineer myself.
Technically, lot of accusations came against my son, which are not valid. Okay. But even if they thought that my son himself picked it up, and now give it back. How big a crime was that? Is it worth his life? He gave it back. That’s why they got it back. And the console did not come with any tracking device. It does not have any GPS. So had my boy dropped it in the garbage chatroom. Nobody could have traced it back to him. They got it back because my boy Give it back. But when the accusation went to school, it was after 9:30pm on June 28 2019. Since then, within 24 hours, my boy was gone forever. When the school opened on June 21 2019, when they received that allegation, in the same email, they could see the console is no longer missing. So, at most if they have lost some data accidentally, if my boy has deleted some data, I do understand, my boy did not do it purposely. He also explained the loss of data when I asked him That evening, he explained ma there was an initialize button I have never used this before. So I pressed it to to put the system on and that time and you can see go to the Nintendo switches website, they have documented it. That is the functionality of the initialized button, it resets the accounts, it does not delete the accounts, but whatever you add afterwards, those information get deleted. So at most the parents could have asked me to pay for the console. I could have done that right. But the school did not reach out to me did not share the complaint accusation before jumping the gun on my boy. Okay, and by End of his school day on January 1, the school vice principal reached out to me and said that my son wanted to talk to me first, she didn’t let him talk. Even if some criminal gets caught red handed, even that person gets access to his lawyer. Right. But my boy was not allowed to talk to me. I’m the sole parent living in this country. And after that, she told that I tried for long hours to get the confession out of your child, your child in conference, so the school records, you can see my boy was questioned and question, he kept on saying the same thing. I didn’t take it. I played one round of free game fortnight, but I didn’t take it. He accepted that he opened an account with his own ptsb email id. Now imagine the accusations that came that my son hacked into the boys account and stole personal identity theft. Yeah, this phrase was put in that email. Well, I work for bank. I’m a computer engineer myself. Does the parent really know what is personal identity theft? Does the parent really know what hacking is? If I can manage to hack into your account? Do you think I need to create my own account with an email ID that unambiguously identifies me? So, but the school did not let me respond to the accusation that came against my boy. Because the father wanted a confession of stealing. So they intimidated my boy, they quest him to confess to stealing, that they could not manage to get out of him. So they threatened him that he will be handed over to cops.
Okay, and same thing was told to me as well. Because my son’s TDSB email id was found in the log. Now, in these two years, I got to know a lot about the law. And a lot of other things I know, a 12-year-old child, whose email id has been found in another device where he has played one round of fortnight, but the device is with the rightful owner, because my boy returned it. At that point, there could not be any charge legally against my 12-year-old child. That night, I did not have this information. We were new immigrants with a new people. I was scared. They broke my confidence. And when I came home from bark, I talked to my boy, he explained everything, exactly same thing, what he already shared at school. And, you know, and whether it matters to people or not, he looked straight into my eyes and told me my did not take it with the world believes him or not, I believed him. But anyway, even if the school did not have any evidence that he took him to talk the console, they did have documented evidence that he himself returned it without anyone asking him to do so. So did he deserved this treatment that they attached a label of a thief that broke that crushed his world. You know, he was so proud to be the good student, because his class teachers loved him. All other teachers loved him his principal, once chose him to represent the school. Every time all these things happened. He used to come to me with his big bright eyes, describing that how proud he feels. So you can understand his father. Okay, we are diverse, but my son used to talk to his father every weekend over Skype. So, his father also used to say that someday people will tell me, this is Oracle’s father. I will be known for you. Okay. So you can understand he always thought that we are. We are already proud of him. People love him and that day, because he played on a friend’s console. The world completely crashed. So now onwards for him. He thought he will be known as a thief. How will he look into the eyes of his favorite teachers his friends, his Parents I think that broken that broke him down.
So it was very difficult when the system remained completely on responsive. police investigation got completed on 25th of July 2019. I got notification in email from the investigating officer. But since then, I immediately filed the freedom of information request to get the police investigation report. Every month I had to follow up for next one year 10th July 2020. The report was finally released to me. Okay, then I saw the documentation. The report says the console was found in my son’s possession. Then my son was disciplined at school. Then the console was returned to the boy. It does not say first my son returned the console to the boy. Again, he was disciplined, disciplined for what? Not written.
So the full police investigation report described why my son should be called a thief. But the police investigating officer wrote to me that we have never investigated any complaint of theft against your boy. Okay, so then I reached out to oiprd. Initially, in 2019, July, I reached out to ombudsman of Ontario, they talk to TDSB. And they shared in email that TDSB will do their own inquiry after the police investigation is completed. So police investigation got completed July 25 2019. But TDSB did not care to initiate any inquiry. In October 2019, in Toronto Star and global news, they covered my son’s story. When they reached out to TDSB. They told that they have investigated the matter. And they did not find anything. But I did not know when that investigation happened. Because I was not even called. So I had to follow up for one and a half year, only by end of 2020. From the school board, I got confirmation email, that they did not do anything after my son’s passing that resulted in a report. So if they really did some investigation or inquiry or whatever you call it, then there should be some documentation. Right?
A child he was their student. One fine morning he vanished. A new did not even want to know what actually happened to him. I mean, that sounds very inhuman to me. Doesn’t matter whether his model follows up or not. I thought a school board will own their students. They should care for the children. But I don’t know something made them very uncomfortable to uncover the truth. I don’t know what it is. Even the coroner’s report that I received in August 2019. That, you know that put some words in my mouth that mother shared. There was some conflict between mother and son. She could not understand his behavior just before his passing for a few days, and there was a conflict between them. Later I challenged when did I because I was never my statement was never recorded by the police. Never. Then how did you get this? Where did you get this? And the last week of my child’s passing. Whatever happened? I had so many emails because I was talking communicating with the school, the social worker, the middle child Aid Society. I do have lot of documents. Nobody reached out to me for that. So it went for review. Every month I followed up by 2019 December the coroner’s Report got reviewed, and they informed that we find the report is accurate. We will add one more line that the child was bullied, and it was known to the mother. What is that? What does that mean? Then, again, I, you know, reacted and challenged that time. Okay, I’m sorry for my emotional outburst. But I wrote something very rude as well. That I don’t understand you do not want to do the truth. Either you show me that this is what I said. Or you have to correct the report. After that, by that time when the media reports came out, and one of the child advocates Cheyanne Ratnam she found it in social media, she reached out to my lawyer and connected me with Irwin Elman, the former child advocate of Ontario. So they started guiding me. Then, after they started guiding me, I reached out to why PRD You know, when I the wipr investigation when it started, I was I just wanted to be interviewed in presence of at least one of the child advocates, I was not allowed to that’s why they did not even interview me. And they close the case. And later, they sent me a decision letter saying your complaint is unsubstantiated. But I can show you from line by line. Like, there is a text that the parent of the console owner parent, he called me asking me to pay $60 as the damage compensation. And my son overheard it, and then he went out of the apartment and died by suicide.
Can you please explain why would a 12-year-old intelligent boy want to die if his mother is asked to pay $60. But how did they verify this? The call happened between two civilians not last for the country’s privacy law? Any of them could not keep a record of it. Then how did they know it that this was told in the in the conversation? Okay, if you cannot verify then at least I expected you will put both the party’s version? No, my version was completely discarded. Yeah. And even in the police investigation report they mentioned the vice principal had credible source to believe my son stole the console. Exactly. This is the world the report is redacted a public report so I can share it with you You can verify. My point is if someone claims I have credible source to believe police investigation, I mean, investigating officer did not ask what credible source you will have. They will not ask me to reveal my source. But it was not done. So I really lost hope. By July last year July 2020. I almost on the verge of giving up on myself. Because I thought that nothing else will happen in this country. No way I could make the truth known to people. What actually was on had to bear with before he actually decided to leave, leave us forever. But luckily the child advocates also I think I am not sure whether Irvin really reached out to the chief coroner’s office, but and I also create a lot of noise, even to the regional coroner’s office, whether that has contributed to this also I do not know. But by end of 2020 I got some information from the chief coroner’s office that they will initiate a review. And I was not allowed to attend the review. Or my community members were also even the child advocates were also not allowed. But they appointed one Nancy Russell she talked to me and my community members in presence of the LDR D team of the chief governor’s office. And Nancy did a great job. She got only almost a few days time to interact with us and I almost dumped her with lots of information. And she really tried to understand how my son was as a person and what could have gone wrong. And I think she represented us and she did a good job. And also, she recorded our video statement, my statement and all and my community members, they who knew me and my son very well, their statements, and my son’s best friend’s mother. She also gave me her written statement, which police never asked from her. So that she gave me written consent to share with the chief coroner’s office that also I shared. Because that night, before my son went out of the apartment, I talked to her, and my son was sitting next to me. Okay, even that evening, my son played with her son in the park. But you see, in the police investigation, there is a there is a place where they have defined the scope. And one of the scope is the influence on the mind. Okay, so if a 12 year-old child dies by suicide, who will know about his mental condition, his immediate family and friends, right? But police did not care to talk to any of us or record any of our statements. I don’t know why. But that was done. Till then. In this ldrd report, I mean, we were told that there were mental health expert, juvenile justice, export. And many other people who deal with children, our representative from Toronto District School Board representative from Toronto Police Service, it’s a drop, I think child leave society. So I think they have talked to everyone. And then they documented everything. And I received the report by the end of May. And first time I saw, there’s a report that is by this system, which the documentation is unbiased, and they really tried to find out what could have gone wrong, instead of blaming my son for being a thief, and a troubled child of a single mother for his death.
So at least I feel that in 2020, July, I did not want to get up next day, there was a day. Now I failed, luckily, that the I did not die. So at least know what happened to my son. So although I do not think recommendations are everything, unless they are implemented. And you know, only when these are implemented, and really the agency start following them, then only the children and their families will be benefited. And the children might be a bit safer than before.
I am going to ask you about those recommendations in a little bit. But I do want to go back to the whole issue of bullying. You believe that Arka took his own life because he was bullied. When was the first time that he mentioned being bullied to you? What was the circumstance and what did you do about it?
That time he was in grade five, and he was going to the law school where he was studying when he passed away. So because we came from India, I think his class teacher thought my son was a Bengali child. So he she made him sit next to another Bengali boy. Okay. And one more Middle Eastern boy was sitting next and these two boys they were much bigger than him. They somehow made him believe that you are very small belt very feeble. We will protect you from bullying because they will be going to middle school soon. And in middle school, there will be bullies. And if you listen to us, we will protect you. If you do want there will be repercussions. This I started hearing because anything I asked my son not to do like they used to tell him like we are more than tell her that we are going to throw the public library but we will go to some video game partner. Okay, but my son never needed to lie to me because I was not That, of course for video game I wanted to illustrate and all these things, but we had kind of a, you know, very friendly relationship, he could even shout at me. So he never needed to hide things from me. And he shared this with me as well as his dad. His dad also saw these boys. And he also tried to make him understand that, you know, these boys are asking you to lie to us, that is not good. They’re not. Then Sunday, I found some coupon sheets and other boys assignment sheets. In my place, I asked my boy that are their sheets are at my place. And I see that my son’s handwriting. He told I am doing their homework. Okay, you know, I have to keep them happy, otherwise, there will be repercussions. They’re saving me from the bullies. Well, who are those bullies? They are protecting him from I could not figure out but I understood that my son has been made to believe that he cannot make these boys angry. You know. So then he told me you should not reach out to school, you should not reach out to their parents. I was new, I knew that at three o’clock, I cannot go to his school to pick him up, he will have to come on his own. So I was scared to you know, often these boys. Instead, I reached out to school, I don’t vote to his class teachers that these boys are some boys are coming to my apartment. And all these things, they are asking my son to watch some videos also enjoying free internet, and some of the stuff which they are not supposed to like some animal violence videos, etc. They made my son watch and my son was very disturbed because he was he loved animals like anything. So at least I shared the issues that were going on. And then I requested them that can you suggest if I can put him some after school classes, etc. So the class teachers they suggested Yeah, in school, there are some programs you can put him in. I did that. Now, because he got occupied after school hours, these boys could not come to my place anymore. That annoyed them. Okay, so they kept on making him believe that, okay, your mom does not want to spend she’s a miser See, she buys your supplies from dollar store. Okay, it’s afraid cetera. She’s not buying new PlayStation these that after all, he was a child. So he kept on bringing it up. And I had to explain. And sometimes, because both these both of these children, they are not from Western countries. And in India, as well as in middle Middle Eastern countries, single mothers are not perceived well. So couple of times, my son shared that they talk about you. He did not want to divulge, he felt uncomfortable, because I know my son used to shield me from, you know, bad things people say about me. But in the school record, I saw that when he was assaulted, and he had to be taken to hospital. This time, formerly, I had to complain about these boys. I had to name them. And then the school principal called me to the school.
Along with my son, we discussed at length, and the school asked us not to engage with these two boys and their parents directly. Just we should stay away. At that point, I thought I just wanted my son to be safe. I did not care for anything else. So I just requested the principle that Ma’am, you just tell me that my son will be safe. Okay, so then they asked me to sign one form. And my son was booked for that counseling by social worker from tdsb. But much later, the week my son passed away actually, the day before my son passed away. I got to know from the social worker, she did not even know that my son was assaulted and that time she was called. And then my son was put for counseling. Okay, I thought that my son told me I’m scared to go to school. That’s why they sent him for counseling much later when later in 2019. December, no. This we initiated the discussion with TDSB superintendent. The meetings happened in February and March of 2020 That time in prisons, my community members and child advocates, the school superintendent told that Arka was sent for counseling because he could not regulate his emotions. So another girl was with me, she’s from my community, actually, she studied in my school, we were like, one year, junior and senior, she, so she knows me since my kindergarten days, so she told if Arka cannot regulate his emotions, nobody was hurt. And nobody ever complained against Arka. Right? You will not have any record, you will never shared with toolbar that any complaint came against Oracle. But other boys were not sent for counseling, but they hurt him. They kicked him in the abdomen so badly that he also had to visit hospital. I not know because, you know, these questions were never formally answered.
So let me ask you this, obviously, bullying is a huge societal issue, and it continues to grow, whether it’s, you know, we’re talking about children or adults. You’ve had first-hand experience with this in the worst possible way that any parent could possibly experience. What would you say to parents who are going to watch this or listen to this interview about what should be done in the very early stages when a child comes home, and tells you that they are being bullied?
I, when I look back, I was thinking that I was protecting my boy. But you can see I failed, I failed to protect my boy, because I was killed. I would say that parents should not be scared, should not be scared because you know, the children they sense, everything. My son might have sensed that my mom, she’s alone, she will come home a little late after I come from school. So I have to come from school all by myself, and all these things, right. So at that point, as a new immigrant, I did not take I did not have the courage to, you know, make that much noise that I did, after my boy passed away. Till then, I was trying to, you know, find some peaceful solution is what I was trying to pacify everyone so that everyone is happy with my boy, they won’t hurt him. But that did not work.
If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
I will have I mean, this time last time when police came, and they told me that would you want us to go to the other parents are all and or you want us to talk to the school? I told Ma’am, I do not know, you suggest me because I’m a single mother, I work for full day in a bank. So I cannot start from my office before five. And my son’s school is up to 310. So I’m a little scared that he will have to come to home all by himself in two hours. He genuinely plays in the park. But he’s on by on his own. So today, I don’t think I think I would have reached out to at least my community members, because later my community members told me that the time I was new, right, I did not reach out to people, I should have made lots of noise. I should have made lots of noise before my boy went back to school. I should have sought for that report that what are you going to what are what are the actions you are going to take? What disciplinary actions are you going to take against those boys? I did not look for it. All I cared for is just keep my boys safe. And I thought that would work that did not so.
So let me ask you this. In what ways do you now see bullying differently than you did before Arka’s passing?
I mean, that time when my son was getting bullied, I was discussing, you know, almost every day with my colleagues at work, even they have children. And they used to say, you know the school staff. They always look the other way unless a boy or a girl is severely injured and goes to hospital or something big happens. Otherwise they just look the other way and they will always say there was a fight It’s not a fight, when a small child will never engage in physical fight with a child who is two, three times bigger. It’s their survival instinct. Okay? Even I was not so confident to stand up against this vice principal of my son’s school, because my son was still going to that school. I was thinking, Okay, I was pestering them, when my son can write the gifted test, you told my son is a good candidate, let him write, so that my colleagues were asking me to take him out of that school. So I was thinking, Okay, the summer vacation will start, I will take him out of the school. But I didn’t get the time. So the moment you know that something scared your boy, your son or your daughter, I think parents should not try to make peace with it. No, if you try to avoid problems, and do not confront the problem, and get to the root of it, and fix it, it doesn’t go away. That’s what I learned.
When he was attacked in that bullying incident that sent him to the hospital, what was done following that incident in terms of actions taken by the school to preserve his safety?
Well, I was told my son should not talk to these two boys, and I should not reach out to their parents. That’s that. That was that’s all. Even later, after his passing, when we had meetings with the school superintendent TDSB at TDSB office, they could not give us any specifics that anything was done anything for that matter. We did not because my community members because their children are still going to school. So they asked the raise these questions, what was done. And only they arranged for counseling, that too, in their record, they did not even mention that my son was assaulted and went to hospital. And that that is the time I reported to school. And they arranged for counseling. The social worker herself did not know. Why was she called? So I, I don’t think that they actually took my son safety very seriously.
In many ways, you know, talking to if you talk to educators these days, with the internet and social media, and all of the information that’s flowing out there, cyber bullying, in person bullying, it’s it’s such a huge issue. What advice would you have to share with school administrators not being an educator yourself, but being a mother who’s gone through this horrifying ordeal, about the steps that they need to consider taking a when bullying of this kind is concerned?
First thing is I feel if you really work in a school, okay? You need not be a teacher. If you are working in a school, that means you deal with children. If you see any child is harmed in any way, you should be concerned. So first thing, you should have some compassion. It’s not only a job, my job if I write some wrong code, okay, there will be some, some people will be impacted. I do understand. But people who work in the school, they have much, much more bigger responsibility because they deal with children, children who are vulnerable, who cannot express things well, whose parents are away. And they relied on the school staff for their children’s safety. So it is a much bigger responsibility. So if they really care for the children, they should, instead of looking the other way, okay, it is not my job, okay, I will not be called any way. This can never help. If you really care for the children, you have to get to the root of it.
I’m interested to know as well what your opinion and perspective is on the parents of the children who bully. What would you be your message to them? Because often the school gets caught, and you know, educational institutions get caught in the middle of these situations. But what would you say to parents of children who bully?
First of all, had my son being very strong physically, you know, I might not have cared much about bullying, because I would have thought, okay, nobody can do any harm to my child. I think that’s how they feel confident, and they don’t think much about bullying, because their children are not in the receiving end. That’s a very big problem. And it is not possible to punish the small children as well. You know, even if you take some disciplinary action, it cannot be that harsh, either. But there should be some consequences. I feel if my son bullies then I shouldn’t be punished because I’m not teaching him the right thing. You know, okay. This is, I mean, children, they learn things from home as well as from school. I might be annoyed with something. I might be angry with somebody, but I’m not supposed to say something abusive to someone, I’m not supposed to physically harm someone. This is some basic learning. If the child fails to deliver that he has learned it, then we should hold people responsible, the adults responsible unless we do that. I don’t think that you are I mean, after I came to Canada last year, I think CBC did not last year 2019 itself, CBC radio series school violence series. And after my son’s passing, and there was an incident in Hamilton, a boy was stabbed. After that, they did a big series. And you must have seen the number of children that get bullied in middle school and high school, how they responded to that survey and everything. So it’s a big issue. So parents also should be held responsible. You know, and whenever there is you have to take action, you have to take action. See, when I reported that to incident to the school, they should have called other parents also right in a meeting where I can also be there, the social worker could have been there. And about the psychology, I’d not understand that, that Well, I’m not an expert. But I do believe even harming others, there is some different psychology, the children who Buddhist to others, they are insecure somewhere. I mean, as a non expert, I might not be able to understand that. But school can reach out to the mental health experts and all psychologists who can understand this and can help the children to get rid of those insecurities so that they don’t lash out on the vulnerable ones. Right, but I did not see that happened. In my son’s case.
33-page report from the Office of the Chief coroner yielded almost two dozen recommendations in Arka’s death. I’m wondering, which among those recommendations struck you the most, the ones that you see as having the most impact moving forward to prevent this kind of awful situation from ever happening again to another family?
Um, few few of them, to be honest, there was one recommendation that involvement of police cannot be used as a threat. Okay, you can see that if you have to discipline a child, it forbids the school to mention the involvement of police as a threat. They also mentioned, if the staff for see that there is a potential, there can be a potential involvement of police, it has to be communicated to the parent first, and in presence of the parent, they have to talk to the child. That’s very in my son’s case. I mean, I wish that was done. That is one thing. Second thing is they mentioned that if a child dies, by some unnatural death, then those school I mean the coroner chief supervising coroner, they will ask the school board to conduct one internal organizational review and give them the report. So you can understand that the coroner’s office recommended, made this recommendation to themselves so that they took it in their own hand so that the school board’s does not get away with it. That okay, a child died and they do not want to uncover the uncomfortable truth.
So that is also very, very important and the third one that that made me, I mean, I felt that is very important that when a family or a child reaches out to Children’s Aid Society or child welfare organizations, even if it is not under their scope, if they listen to them, or try to give them some other points or you know, redirected, redirect them to some other agency who can really help, instead of saying, we cannot do anything about it, I think that can help. Because bullying quite a few times, it actually breaks down your mental strength. Okay, I could not even sense that my son was so broken that evening, I was talking to my boy looking straight into his eyes when he was going out of the apartment. So I wish we could talk to some people who would listen to us from a different mindset, who will see my son as a criminal, okay, even if they think that he might have done something wrong. But you can understand right? After all, he was a child. He already even if he took the console, he already corrected his own mistake. So we did not find people to reach out to who could be that sincere to understand that my son and me we needed some support. So but we reached out to the child welfare organization, the social worker who was counseling my boy, later, when I got the record records from school, I saw that immediately the social worker wrote to the school seeking a meeting. But that never happened. So these are the few things that completely standard out. And also there was one recommendation to the Ministry of Education, that to standardize a template for interaction with the child. So that there will be documentation whether a child does something wrong or not, when the child reported, like, first time when my son was assaulted and taken to hospital, that very day, in the morning, these boys threatened him, that they will smash his face. And my son reported that to the school, the Vice Principal did not even care to give me a ring to inform that my son was threatened. That shows that she did not even value my son’s life, I could at that day, at least I could have come to the school to pick my boy up, then my son, they couldn’t assault my boy, I didn’t get a chance. So the way the school tried to avoid the documentation that can go away if there is a standardized template, and it is filled by the staff as well as the students. So that, you know, this will make the staff more responsible, more accountable. I think that is very important. Even for the parents who are sending their children to school and relying on the staff, if the staff they are not doing their job. It’s what can parents do, they will have to go to work anyway. So I think these are the few things that that might bring some positive change in the system that can provide some safer environment to the children.
Not only was Arka your only son, but you have been quoted as describing him as your best friend. And I’m wondering, how have you been able to cope with this? Where have you gotten the courage and the strength, not only to grieve, and try to cope with the loss of a child so young and an a child, but to fight for him to clear and get some justice for the way everything that you described unfolded? I’m just wondering, where do you get that strength to continue?
Initially, I did not have the strength. first few days when I thought, you know, I’m a programmer, right. I thought my head was completely blank. I never thought I’ll be able to code again. But then I went back to office because I have a friend she lives in us. At the time I was at another friend’s place here. She was struggling to feed me something for first few days. So that time my friend from us, she told me, do you know what happened to your boy, and there is no one who will fight for him. If you’ll give up, then they will bury the case under the rug. Will you allow that to happen? You know why your boy had to leave. So, if you don’t pull yourself up, nobody will voice on behalf of your boy. So that kind of give me a push that no, it’s not only my son’s loss. He was maligned. He was wronged. I’m not, I cannot even spend the rest of my life only grieving his loss. It’s not enough. Then when I went back to work, my workplace, they contacted one therapist, and they got me connected with him. And I started talking to him. Most of the days I only cried. But I told you, I could not detach myself from his memories. I never touched any of his stuff that were lying around. You know, everything, his books, his drawings, his shows, his clothes, his toys, his different box, water bottle, everything. I did not have the courage to back them in a box and keep it out of my sight. I always missed him. But somehow without that I could not even survive. I think I still carry him. And somehow I made peace with it, that I cannot actually stay away from his memory. I have to cry, and I have to carry his memory along with me that only I can. I think to some extent I feel less guilty. That Okay, maybe I should have done a lot when he was there to protect him. I couldn’t understand. But at least now, I’m trying. I mean, in my own capacity, of course, I’m not an expert. And I do not have any power either. I’m just a normal civilian. So I will give it a shot. At least after two years. Yes, my son is not there. He could not see that mark would fix things for him. Actually, my son counted a lot on me, you know, be either physics problem, English assignment, or anything for that matter. Some presentations, some skit has to be short. Anything he thought my mom can manage. He wanted some different countries food. Ma you watching YouTube and make that. Okay. So at times, I felt that I failed him. He always counted on me he thought, okay, Mark and fix things. And that evening when I was talking to that parent, the console owner parent, he intimidated me in such a way that at some point, I started crying. And my son was I I still regret that I shouldn’t have done it. At least at that point. I should have shown my confidence, and I shouldn’t have broken down. I don’t know whether that actually pushed him to this. He might have thought that he put me put all of us in trouble. He led us down. I don’t know. But yeah, it’s it’s difficult, but that’s how I always listen to my heart. You know, so my heart says, even if he’s not there, I have to feel that somewhere he’s there. Then only I can go on with my life. So, yeah, that’s what I try to do.
Durba Mukherjee, thank you so much for taking the time to share this very painful
“The decision was solely mine,” recounts Mukherjee. “And I discussed it with only my son. Not everybody was comfortable with me moving out of my country to a completely different place, along with a small child. So, I felt guilty. I was blamed.”
Mukherjee, who was separated from her husband at the time, had her reasons to start anew.
“I’m an Indian woman. And in India, a woman taking some step like this, that’s not perceived that well. They’re supposed to conform with all the social norms and everything. I think I broke quite a few. I broke my marriage, then later, I decided to take my son to a different country. But I did all this to give my son a better place to grow up,” says Mukherjee, a software engineer by profession.
“We were so happy,” she continues her relationship with her young son. “We were very close. And we were like friends.”
Mother and son landed to their new life in Toronto where a fresh set of challenges awaited.
“I was completely lonely. Other than my son, nobody understood me that well,” Mukherjee reflects. “So, it was very difficult. Secondly, as a new immigrant, I was not aware of different agencies or avenues where I can reach out to.”
Still, the family of two quietly persevered.
Described as a bright student, curious, with a sense of humour Arka hoped to become a teacher one day. Like many 10-year-olds, he strived to adapt to his new surroundings, make friends and fit in.
“My son was bullied for eight months, and so many times, I reached out to the school,” Mukherjee says. “My son was once assaulted so severely that I had to take him to Sunnybrook Hospital. I had to call the cops. I do have the report from Toronto Police Service. I reached out to school. My son was put for counselling by a social worker,” she says. “I was asked to put him in self-defence class. I did that. I did everything that I could.”
A long, winding road trying to address the bullying at school led Mukherjee and her son down multiple paths over several months. Various tactics proved futile. Then, the fallout from an incident involving a gaming device and his friends would prove to be a tipping point for young Arka.
That same week — on June 21, 2019 — the slight boy with big eyes and a bright smile jumped off a 24-storey building. He was 12 years old.
“I could not even sense that my son was so broken that evening,” Mukherjee shares about that fateful summer night. “I was talking to my boy, looking straight into his eyes when he was going out of the apartment.”
The coroner ruled Arka’s death a suicide.
That ruling and the handling of their situation by multiple professional organizations and individuals propelled Mukherjee to search for answers — even in her grief.
Durba Mukherjee believes bullying drove Arka to take matters into his own small hands.
“Bullying quite a few times, it actually breaks down your mental strength,” Mukherjee says. I wish we could [have] talked to some people who would listen to us from a different mindset.”
Shocked, devestated, alone and — in the weeks following Arka’s death — Mukherjee was absolutely determined.
“I reached out to the school superintendent, the trustee. And then I reached out to my city councillor, my MPP, my MP so many people.” Mukherjee says she also contacted the Children’s Aid Society for answers.
“They told that they generally do not intervene when it is a peer-to-peer violence. So only when [an] adult caregiver abuses a child, then they can intervene,” she says.
Durba Mukherjee’s efforts to ensure her son’s preventable death was not in vain led her to challenge the coroner’s report — not once but twice.
In June of 2021, more than two years after Arka’s death, Mukherjee’s relentless effort yielded key results. The Local Death Review Table released a 30-plus page report. In it, more a dozen recommendations for several organizations including school boards, two government ministries, and the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
For Mukherjee, the fight to validate Arka’s life and to value his memory has yielded some solace through the recommendations — which she hopes will be actioned soon.
“There was one recommendation to the Ministry of Education to standardize a template for interaction with the child,” she says. “So that there will be documentation whether a child does something wrong or not when the child reports. Like, first time when my son was assaulted and taken to hospital, that very day, in the morning, these boys threatened him, that they will smash his face. And my son reported that to the school. the Vice-Principal did not even care to give me a ring to inform that my son was threatened. That shows that she did not even value my son’s life. I could have come to the school to pick my boy up, then they couldn’t assault my boy. I didn’t get a chance.”
The pain-filled road on what was supposed to be a journey of promise, adventure and a fresh start will never be the same for Mukherjee. She wonders what if and why. What could she have done differently? In her mind, she was doing the best she could at the time — with the information she had and what she was being told.
The shocking and senseless loss of her only son has given her added purpose — to help others avoid such a preventable death.
“I would say that parents should not be scared, because you know children they sense everything,” Mukherjee offers. “My son might have sensed that my mom, she’s alone, she will come home a little late after I come from school. So I have to come from school all by myself, and all these things, right. So at that point, as a new immigrant, I did not have the courage to make that much noise that I did after my boy passed away. Till then I was trying to find some peaceful solution. I was trying to pacify everyone so that everyone is happy with my boy. They won’t hurt him. But that did not work.”
During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Durba Mukherjee also discusses:
- A parent’s role in bullying (the bully or the bullied)
- Her regrets and what she would have done differently
- Advice for parents whose children may be bullied
- Recommendations made by the Local Death Review Table
- Coping with the loss of a child
- What gives her hope
Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition