Nineteen years ago, Basantapur in Murshidabad district’s Domkal subdivision did not even have a primary school.
Today this village, located about 235km from Calcutta, is an education hub.
Now Basantapur boasts of a primary Bengali medium school, two schools till the higher secondary level, one Bengali medium, one English, a government-aided degree college and several institutions of technology, including one offering M.Tech.
The efforts of former IPS officer Nazrul Islam, who is from the village, have brought about this transformation. As a result, the local economy and lifestyles have changed too, only for the better, claim villagers.
A nationalised bank, a post-office and an ATM kiosk have opened in the village as well.
Nazrul Islam, also a writer, set up the primary school in the village after he won the Ananda Puraskar in 1995 for his novel Bakul.
Remembering the struggle he had to go through in order to study – his school was in another village – he committed his prize money of Rs 1 lakh to setting up Basantapur Education Society.
The society was founded in 1996. The same year, it set up the primary school, the first school in the village, on a 10-cottah plot.
Eventually, the other schools, the degree college and the technical schools were founded.
Now, Domkal has an engineering college, a polytechnic college, a BEd, an MEd college and one primary teachers’ training college.
The society’s founder-secretary Asraful Haque recalls the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee inaugurating the building of Domkal College in Basantapur in August 2001.
He also laid the foundation stone of Domkal College of Technology on the very same day.
“Basantapur has everything except a university,” pointed out Moksed Sheikh, 62, a resident of the village, proudly.
In 1999, the district primary school council took over the school.
|The Domkol educational hub in Murshidabad. Picture by Chayan Majumdar
The degree college, which has humanities, science and commerce streams, is government-aided too, now.
“The aim of the society has always been to provide education to students from the less privileged sections. It is better if students can go to government institutions with lesser fees,” says Nazrul Islam, who is the president of the education society.
The village has changed in these two decades. Prosperity has entered in many ways, including pucca roads.
The pradhan of the Congress-run Azimganjgola gram panchayat, Tozammel Haque, recalled there were hardly five persons who had Madhyamik qualifications 15 years ago.
“But now, you can find one or two persons with B.Tech and M.Tech degrees in almost each house in the village. We used to walk 5km to drop a letter at a post-office at Domkal. Now, we have a post-office in our village,” said Tozammel.
“The economy in the village has gone through a sea-change. Now, the villagers can afford to send their children to private English medium schools and are not compelled to send them to government-aided Bengali medium schools,” said Tozammel.
Earlier, Basantapur could only be reached from Domkal through muddy roads during the monsoons. Now, there are two pucca roads at both ends of the village, though villagers regret that nothing but van rickshaws ply on these.
However, that has also been a boost.
Basantapur, which claimed only two “job-holders” 15 years ago, Nazrul Islam and Mohammed Nizamuddin, who taught at the primary school, was primarily a village of small agricultural labourers. Driving van-rickshaws to bring visitors to these institutions from Domkal has proved more lucrative than tilling the land, say villagers.
But Basantapur now has 150-odd “job-holders”, about a hundred of them employed by the education society.
With more money coming in, land-holding patterns have changed. The small farmers and agricultural labourers now own bigger plots of land.
Farooq Ahmed, office-secretary of the society, says there are nearly 500 teaching and non-teaching staff on its payroll. The society spends nearly Rs 58 lakh on salaries every month.
Ahmed said the society owned 200 bighas of land, some of which was donated, some bought.
The villagers have moved into better homes.
“Earlier, only two or three houses were pucca. The rest were mud houses with thatched roofs. Now there are several two-storey houses, and 90 per cent of the houses are pucca. The rest are brickhouses with tin roofs,” said Moksed Sheikh.
“The society is functioning with dignity because there is no politics in it. Men, irrespective of party affiliations, are associated with it,” said Ahmed.
Villagers who had donated land to the society were given a job at the society, says Nazrul Islam, who lives in Calcutta, but his mother still lives in the village.
Mohammed Nizamuddin, the primary schoolteacher, said the society had accumulated funds through various means.
One was organising functions with Bollywood and Tollywood stars and singers, he said. Bollywood personalities Rani Mukherjee, Mithun Chakrabarti and Bappy Lahiri had performed for free at various functions the society organised, to help them buy land for the society.
“The first collection, of course, was the donation of Rs 1 lakh from Nazrul,” said Nizamuddin.
Ahmed said that the society has urged the state education department to give them permission to set up a privately run university. “We have been waiting for the government’s sanction,” he said.