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School held hostage by guardians

Hundreds of parents and outsiders laid siege to the 131-year-old Christ Church Girls’ High School in Dum Dum throughout Thursday, smashing school properties, tearing up files and shouting slogans.

Their demand kept changing: a statement from principal Helen Sarkar on the death of Class V student Oindrilla Das, an apology from Sarkar, resignation and finally her arrest.

Oindrilla died on Wednesday, eight days after some seniors had allegedly locked her up in a school washroom. Her grandfather has lodged a police complaint blaming the school for “unprecedented irresponsibility” but the family has not levelled any allegation against the principal.

About 400 guardians gathered at the school around 10.30am on Thursday. A huge police force — including officers of the Barrackpore commissionerate and Dum Dum, Nimta, Belghoria, Khardah and Baranagar police stations — was deployed.

The school, run by the Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India (CNI), declared a holiday on Thursday to mourn Oindrilla’s death.

The parents, many of whom claimed to be unaware that the school was closed, demanded to meet the principal. But the police asked Sarkar not to step out of her chamber, fearing that she would be lynched.

The crowd forced its way into the principal’s office and broke glass windows, smashed computers, furniture and crockery and tore important documents.

A teacher, Sushmita Halder, complained of chest pain and passed out while the vandalism was on. The police escorted her to a nursing home in an ambulance.

The cops had brought water cannons and tear-gas shells; a 30-strong regiment of combat force was deployed to drive the agitators out. “But there was a call from our superior asking us not to resort to any drastic measure,” said an officer.

Around this time more than 100 people who were inside the compound gathered in front of the principal’s chamber again and demanded that the police hand her over to them. Many of them entered the room.

Fearing that she could be lynched, the police broke a wooden partition and pushed the principal into another room. She hid under a table while a group of cops stood around her.

The guardians of several students staying at the hostel on the first floor of the school building were seen whisking away their wards. “I saw the mayhem on TV. I called up the school... they said the situation was out of control. So I decided to take her back home,” said Anirban Dutta, a guardian from Naihati. Around 35 students were staying at the hostel.

Around 4pm the police escorted the principal to the school balcony, from where she addressed the guardians.

Sarkar, speaking over a microphone, apologised for Oindrilla’s death and said the students who had tortured her would be punished. “The death is unfortunate. We will soon conduct an inquiry and punish those found guilty,” Sarkar said with folded hands.

Many of the parents threw shoes and stones at her. Sarkar kept repeating her appeal but the agitators refused to relent.

Around 6.30pm, the principal resigned. But the guardians insisted the resignation letter was not “valid” as Sarkar had written it on plain paper. They demanded she write it on a paper bearing the school’s insignia.

“The guardians forced the principal to resign,” said school education secretary Arnab Roy. “The district inspector of schools went to the school but faced agitating people. Police had to rescue him.”

The principal did so and the guardians finally lifted the agitation around 7pm.

The chief minister called the bereaved mother and promised action against the guilty. Education minister Bratya Basu visited Oindrilla’s home and made the same promise.

School secretary Dora Mondal, a church official, said: “A probe will be ordered.”

“The death is unfortunate. But this kind agitation is unacceptable,” said Father Moloy D’Costa, the secretary of Association of Christian Schools.