A group of students take a boat to
reach their school
in Chouparan, Hazaribagh, Pictures by Vishvendu Jaipuriar
Hazaribagh, July 21: At Sunderlal Jain Ucch Vidyalaya, a few among a group of 150 students are inevitable latecomers. Their plight has nothing to do with a dare to challenge authority, for, left without another choice, they have to get on a boat and cross a river to attend class.
For the children in the villages of Larahi, Toiya, Gorkhwa and Bhattbigha, roughly 65km from the district headquarters, the Jain Ucch Vidyalaya at Singhrawan in Chouparan block is the nearest high school.
Students gather on the bank of Barakar river and take 30-minute boat rides, each trip ferrying 20 to 25, through the rainy season between June and as late as October.
The last few batches invariably reach school after classes begin at 9.30am.
During monsoon, the river, which for the rest of the year would have knee-deep water, cuts off the four villages in Gobindpur panchayat from the Chouparan block headquarters in Barhi sub-division.
Anjali, a Class IX student, said she starts from her house at 6 ’clock to be among the first few to hop into the boat. “If you get a place in the third or fourth shift, there’s no way to reach school on time,” she explained.
Arjun Kumar, another student, added: “Our schoolteachers co-operate with us even if we get late, as they know we come crossing the river.”
In the absence of a bridge, residents of the villages normally wade through the shallow river waters to reach the block office, around 11km away. Boats become a necessity with the onset of monsoon.
Santosh Yadav, the lone boatman, charges between Rs 80 and Rs 100 per month from each student.
“Students start gathering by 6 in the morning. But as the water levels rise up to the maximum, only around one-fourth of the children, mostly boys, dare to cross the river and go to school,” he added.
Mukhiya Arun Rajak said the area has only two middle schools, which cater to students up to Class VIII — at Toiya and Bhattbigha. Around 100-150 children from the four villages take admission every year in the Jain Ucch Vidyalaya which has a student strength of around 600, he added.
“We have sent a number of letters to education department officials to upgrade any of the middle schools to high schools. Students risk their lives to reach the high school. A dozen people have lost their lives while crossing Barakar in the last 10 years,” the mukhjiya said.
Vinay Kumar Rajak, a villager and a ward samiti member, said that many girls opted to discontinue studies to avoid the risk of crossing the river daily.
Nandkishore Sharma, the block education extension officer, promised to visit the villages after learning about the plight of the children. “I will look into the matter and recommend to the administration to set up a high school in the area,” he added.
District education officer Rajkumar Prasad Singh also agreed to do his bit to set up a new high school, adding he would ask for a report in this regard.