Some 300 students, six teachers and the principal of a premier CBSE school near Bokaro started a hunger-strike on campus on Monday to reclaim their sports grounds from politically-backed encroachers.
On February 7, Kurmi-Mahto residents, backed by the JMM, laid siege to the DAV-Dugda school grounds, 10km from Bokaro. There, they put up the foundation stone of their proposed memorial for Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel — the Kurmis consider India’s first Union home minister one of their own — and one of the two JMM founders, now dead, Binod Behari Mahto.
Threatening the school with dire consequences if the foundation stone was damaged, the group planted a green flag on the grounds that had recently been laid with tracks.
The fast by students and teachers started on Monday as neither encroachers bought the logic that the grounds were inside the campus nor did the district administration heed the FIR lodged with Chandrapura thana on February 8 by school chairman A.K. Ojha and principal Ashutosh Kumar.
The school gave its written complaint to Chandrapura OC Surendra Prasad and sent its copies to Bokaro DC Uma Shankar Singh, state minister and Bermo MLA Rajendra Prasad Singh of the Congress and Dumri MLA Jagannath Mahto of the JMM.
Around 8am on Monday, some 300 students, principal Kumar and half a dozen faculty members sat on the campus for an indefinite hunger strike.
Fearing reprisal from villagers, the school management decided to close the cradle though its final exams were slated from Tuesday. The agitation is also too close for comfort to the CBSE board exam that starts from March 1.
By evening, though the number of fasting students had reduced to 150, the administration and politicians finally took notice.
Bermo SDO Rahul Kumar, who went to settle the problem, told The Telegraph that both villagers and school authorities were adamant over ownership of land.
A source at the meeting said when the SDO pleaded with villagers to let students use the playground, Dumri MLA Mahto strongly objected to it.
As matters stand now, the school will reopen on Tuesday but students won’t enter the playground. Also, a high-level meeting will be held at Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) offices at Dugda where both school authorities and villagers will come with relevant land documents to prove ownership.
In 2002, BCCL gave seven acres to DAV-Dugda.
The BCCL, in the early 1980s, got on lease 790.75 acres in Dugda from the state mining department (Hazaribagh commissionerate) after central clearances. The school was born two decades later, but even in 2014, villagers referred to it as their ancestral land.
Will the school be able to get back lost ground?