| Purnima Manna (foreground) and Rehana Khatun recount their Wednesday evening of distress, when they were locked in their classroom after school gave over. Rehana refused to return to school on Thursday. Picture by Amit Datta
Darkness had descended on their school as Purnima Manna and Rehana Khatun of Class III went on wiping the blackboard and cleaning the desks and chairs on Wednesday. The two nine-year-olds did not know that they were trapped in their classroom in a deserted school.
Thakurpukur's Bratachari Gram Junior Basic School had given over hours ago, and all the other students had left for the day.
So had Chandrani Basu, the teacher who had punished Purnima and Rehana for being 'naughty and talkative' by ordering them to clean the classroom thoroughly before leaving school.
Deed done, when Purnima and Rehana reached the door of their classroom, they were in for a shock ' they had been locked in.
'We started shouting and calling out to Chandrani aunty, begging her to open the door. But after a while, we realised that everyone had forgotten about us and left' We desperately started looking around for ways to get out,' recalled Rehana, still in shock, at her Thakurpukur home on Thursday afternoon.
Basu, after handing out the punishment, had, indeed, forgotten about the little girls.
So had the other employees of the school, including the durwans.
When all their cries failed to draw any help, Purnima and Rehana became desperate to break free. They finally managed to force open a window in the classroom and clamber out.
'She usually comes home by 5 pm. But when it was growing dark and she still wasn't back, I was really worried. Just when I was wondering what to do, she returned' She looked terrified and her feet were trembling,' recalled Shahida Bibi, Rehana's mother.
'When the children narrated their nightmarish experience in school, I decided that something must be done about the callousness of the authorities,' added Shibu Manna, Purnima's father.
Parents of both children lodged a complaint with Thakurpukur police station on Thursday morning, while Rehana refused to return to school.
As the tale of the girls' traumatic experience spread, around 500 guardians and local residents gathered in front of the school building and demanded punishment of those responsible.
Annapurna Ghosh Roy, teacher-in-charge of the school, said: 'None of the teachers in this school locked the door from outside. The children were a little late in returning home. However, their parents and some residents of the area are making too much out of a small incident.'
Teacher Chandrani Basu refused comment on the matter.
'We have received a complaint and an inquiry will be conducted to see who was responsible for the girls' plight. Whoever is found guilty must be punished,' said a senior officer of Thakurpukur police station.