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School fees take toll on student’s life

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 14: Fifteen-year-old Kanakdei Batra’s struggle for life came to end today at SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack.

The girl, belonging to a tribal community in Nabarangpur district, set herself on fire on July 24 after her parents, both daily wage labourers, had failed to arrange Rs 200 for her school and examination fees.

A Class X student of Ghatiguda High School of Papadahandi block in Nabarangpur, Kanakdei could not take this humiliation and decided to end her life.

After initial treatment at a local hospital, she was shifted to Cuttack where the end came this morning.

Her death comes hard on the heels of suicide by another tribal girl from Gajapati district under similar circumstances. Sunita Raita, 21, a nursing student from Dipti Nagar at R Udayagiri of Gajapati district, hanged herself inside her house yesterday after she had failed to deposit her course fee and that for the examination scheduled to be held in November.

Kanakdei’s father Keshab Bhatra said his daughter had asked for Rs 200 for her school fees, but he pleaded helplessness as he had no means of arranging the money. The next day, she asked her mother Budhbari for the money but again drew a blank.

Frustrated and feeling humiliated, the girl on July 24 locked herself up in the kitchen and doused her body with kerosene before striking the match.

Yesterday, Sunita, daughter of Sudam Raita of Dipti Nagar, committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling of her house. “I and my wife had gone to work in the paddy fields and Sunita was alone at home. We were later informed about her suicide,” said Sudam, who is also a daily wager.

“She was upset that I could not arrange her course fee. We had also approached Gajapati district collector Basudev Bahinipati on August 11 with a plea to release her stipend money. He, in turn, issued instructions to the project administrator of integrated tribal development agency, but nothing happened. Now that she is gone, nothing else matters,” said Sudam.

However, project administrator of the agency Kalyan Kumar Rath said: “The collector had asked me to send the money through a draft to the nursing institute where Sunita was studying. We were planning to dispatch it through a special messenger. But in the meanwhile this unfortunate incident took place.”

The twin incidents have evoked sharp criticism from Opposition parties. Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra said: “These two incidents only proved that chief minister Naveen Patnaik does not believe what he says. Naveen has once again proved that he is anti-tribal.”

BJP state president K.V. Singh Deo said: “It’s unfortunate that such incidents are happening time and again. If the chief minister were really concerned, such incidents would not have happened.”

State ST and SC development minister Lal Bihari Himirika, however, said his government was concerned about the education of tribal students, especially the girl children. “I have called for separate reports on the two incidents from the respective district collectors. Appropriate actions will be taken on the basis of reports,” he said.

On June 26, Banita Nayak, a 13-year-old student of Class VII of Aska Government Girls’ High School in Ganjam district, too, set herself on fire after her poor parents had failed to arrange money for her notebooks and other stationary.

Human rights activist advocate Prabir Kumar Das has filed separate PILs on the case of Banita and Kanakdei. Orissa High Court had issued notices to the concerned authorities.

Additional reporting by Lalmohan Patnaik and Vikash Sharma from Cuttack and Sunil Patnaik from Berhampur


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