The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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School under CPM siege
- NRI couple faces extortion demand

Calcutta, July 26: A school set up by a non-resident couple at Baruipur is under siege by thugs backed by the local CPM asking for protection money and jobs.

Ten years ago, Nuria Toneu Lopez, a Barcelona-based doctor, persuaded her newly-married Indian husband Daniel Shah to establish the primary school to offer free education.

Lopez has been in love with India since childhood. “I married an Indian out of love and we have a son, Isaac, who carries Indian blood,” the Spaniard said.

The school, situated 35 km from here, that bears her nickname Sirena is now hostage to local thugs who have demanded protection money of Rs 1 lakh and jobs for three.

“The threats began sometime last October, when the school started expanding,” said Lopez and Shah who reached Calcutta about two weeks ago on learning about the crisis.

“They said they would either kidnap or kill the children and teachers. We are not afraid of them or their threats. But if we fulfil their demands now, they will come back with bigger demands or bigger threats because they think we are a rich NRI couple,” they said.

Kanti Ganguly, district CPM leader and a member of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cabinet, said reports about the incident were disturbing and called for investigation at the party level.

The couple is scheduled to meet the chief minister.

“Some local youths led by Sekhar Purakait and his brother Bhaskar ' CPM supporters ' came to the school with pipegun, lathis and sharp weapons, threatening to kill the children and teachers if their demands were not fulfilled,” said school secretary Manabesh Baidya.

That was on June 19. “Principal Martha Bina Shah and Baidya informed us of the incident. Immediately, we decided to come down,” Lopez said.

After gathering that the couple was in town, the tormentors came with their threats again.

“On Saturday when my wife was in the school, the hoodlums came and threatened them. I think police are not taking any action as they have the backing of the local CPM,” Shah said.

The school has made repeated complaints to the Baruipur police station.

Spread across 2.5 bighas, the school imparts free education to 150 boys and girls. Starting as a tiny bamboo structure, it is now a four-roomed building while an equal number are being added along with a hostel, said Shah, originally from Calcutta.

This is not the first time such an incident has been reported in Bengal. An English medium primary school set up by Jugnu Ramaswamy, who died recently, and his wife Sabnam in Murshidabad had braved a similar predicament.

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