The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shave not only shock at home

Raiganj, July 24: When Raiganj Sishu Sadan superintendent Jayanta Chatterjee peeked into a dorm one morning, he was in for a shock.

Standing in front of a wall-mounted mirror, Ajit Pahan, a Class II student, was shaving. “I knew he was overage, but had no idea that he shaved to hide his age,” Chatterjee said. “I had taken him in on the recommendation of a minister.”

This sums up the sorry state of affairs at the state-run sadan, in the eye of a storm following the “disappearance” of 10 boys. One of the boys was traced to his South Dinajpur home today but the rest are still missing.

Rampant indiscipline, encouraged by lack of security, pervades the sadan, home to 85 students from impoverished families. Students often leave the residential school for days without permission, opening the padlocked gates at night with duplicate keys. There is a hole in the wall ringing the two-storied building.

The superintendent said theft was common at the home. “But we never report them to police for fear it would land the students in trouble and sully the home’s image,” said Chatterjee. Two students were caught stealing money from the office last week. They were sent home.

The sadan, run by the mass education department, is open to students up to 18 years of age. But the rule is flouted with impunity. “We are forced to admit students who are in their mid-twenties. What can you do when they come with age certificates issued by panchayats that say they are below 18 years'” the superintendent asked.

He said the Class II student caught shaving was actually a teenager. “But he had produced a recommendation from a powerful minister. We had no choice but to admit him.”

Students agreed that there was neither security nor discipline at the home. “A portion of the wall collapsed in heavy rain recently. Ever since, students have been sneaking out of that breach in the wall,” Priyamkar Prasad Roy, a student, said.

Another student said their senior mates had duplicated keys and used them to let in and out their “neighbourhood friends” at night.

“We don’t have enough money for food, not to mention security,” said Chatterjee.

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