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‘Why can’t I go to school?’
Srijan Banerjee. (Aranya Sen)

It’s 7.15am and the Banerjee home at 69J Prince Bakhtiar Shah Road, off Tollygunge, is a hive of activity. Class X student Srija is rummaging through her closet trying to find her school socks, mother Mary is in the kitchen packing her tiffin and father Partha Pratim has his eyes on the morning paper and an ear on the phone. But little Srijan seems to have nothing to do.

“Why can’t I go with you?” Srijan, 10, pleads with his sister as she ruffles his hair before picking up her school bag.

It’s a question the Class IV student of La Martiniere for Boys has been asking almost every morning since his parents stopped sending him to school after lodging a police complaint against teacher Sanjay Smart for allegedly demanding a laptop as bribe to promote him to Class V.

An officer at Shakespeare Sarani police station said on Wednesday that Smart, arrested on Monday, had admitted to sending text messages to Srijan’s parents demanding a laptop. “We are now probing if the principal (Sunirmal Chakravarthi) shielded Smart. But we need to gather evidence before taking action against him,” he added.

Chakravarthi, spotted at a resort on the city’s fringes by police sources, was unavailable for comment.

For Srijan’s mother, the bigger issue is her son being deprived of school for almost two months. “His confidence has taken a beating,” rued Mary.

Srijan’s parents have been taking him to a private tutor, though that’s no substitute for school. His desperation was evident when he recently told his father that he would “climb the school walls and sneak into class”.

On another occasion, Srijan insisted on accompanying his sister in the car that drops her to school and then demanded that he be driven past La Martiniere for Boys. “He spotted some of his classmates and started calling out their names. He then threatened to jump out of the car. He cried inconsolably as we sped away,” recalled Mary.

Psychologist Tapashi Mitra said Srijan’s behaviour was “natural” given the circumstances. “Not going to school is a social stigma. That he wants to go back to school proves he is not at fault.”

Srijan’s parents recently bought him textbooks for Class V. “We have also been taking him to Mother House to pray,” said uncle Srijit Sen.

So what does Srijan pray for? “I pray to God that I can go back to school soon,” said the 10-year-old. His target? June 7, when La Martiniere reopens after the summer vacation.

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