The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Children with neither country nor school

Balidapukur (North 24-Parganas), Jan. 12: Till July last year, nine-year-old Harichand Mandal used to go to a school where there was a seat for him. Now he sits on a gunny bag after finding a place on the corridor outside the classroom as it is already full.

But Sagari Ray, who passed Class X a few months ago, considers Harichand fortunate. She does not have any school to go to now.

Welcome to the bleak world of the children who, along with their families, have been hounded out of Bangladesh and are starting life afresh in a country they used to consider foreign (India). Shivering through the winter nights of villages near the India-Bangladesh border with their parents, they now find that their travails do not end with the night.

These children — most of them from middle-class homes where going to school is not considered a privilege — are learning the hard way that the politics of their elders do not leave them untouched. Finding proper education — after having their lives turned upside down — is proving much tougher than they could have ever imagined.

Most of the children who were forced to flee their homes — always in the dead of night, keeping even the fans and lights on (lest their neighbours noticed something amiss) — have not yet been able to find a new school to go to. Government-run schools are over-crowded and those run by voluntary organisations, like the one run by the Ichhamati Society for Human Welfare and Rehabilitation (Ishwar), are too few to be a real option.

Those who have managed to find a school are finding how difficult things can be when their families have no official recognition. With most families coming with only what they were wearing, school report cards were the last things on their minds when they left their homes.

Consequently, those fortunate enough to be enrolled in schools are repeating classes; some are being set back by two academic years as the mad rush for admission continues.

Take the case of Sujit Biswas. A resident of Sonashuri village of Faridpur district till the other day, he was studying in Class X when his father (Sunil) felt things were becoming too dangerous for them in Bangladesh. Demands for his land and passes at his wife, Kanaklata, were growing by the day and the family left one night in September last year. Sujit has found a place in a government-run school, but has been admitted to Class VIII as fresh admissions in the higher classes are impossible.

His brother, Ranjit, is more lucky. He has been set back, academically, by just one year; he is doing Class III which he was over with in Bangladesh.

Anil Ray has come from Kalia (in Jessore) and has three school-going children, Reena, Mamata and Ganesh. All of them have found a place in Ranihati School, near Balidapukur, and each is repeating a class. They don’t mind that — they are not in a position to do so — but they do mind being made to sit on the floor outside the classroom.

“Each of us takes a gunny bag before leaving for school,” 10-year-old Mamata said. “It’s what we sit on when the floor gets too cold for comfort,” she explained.

But there are new beginnings as well for some, like three-year-old Anamika Ray. Too young to go to school in Bangladesh (Kanaipur village of Jessore), the first school she has gone to is an anganwadi school on this side of the border.

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