Burnt in poll hate: a teen’s schoolbooks
Hena Parvin, a 14-year-old Class IX student at the Shams Urdu High School in Kankinara, has nowhere to go on a Friday morning. Sitting under a banyan tree outside a mosque near her modest one-storey home, she says she is worried.
“We have our second semester exam on Wednesday. It’s compulsory to take it. But I haven’t had any of my textbooks since May,” she said.
Hena had had to flee to her grandmother’s home along with her widowed mother Mehrun on May 23, the day the general election results were announced.
The Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat — made up of pockets such as Kankinara, Bhatpara, Titagarh, Jagatdal, Kanchrapara, Garulia, Bijpur and Amdanga — has been simmering since that evening, partly along fault lines that have appeared recently in Bengal.
At least seven lives have been lost so far in Barrackpore in a violent turf war between the BJP, rejuvenated by Arjun Singh who crossed over from Trinamul and won the election, and the ruling party.
On May 23 evening, attackers had dragged Hena and Mehrun out of their home. They torched most of their possessions, including Hena’s schoolbooks and uniform.
It was the third among a string of violent incidents since May 20 night, when it became clear the BJP was going to cause an upset in Bengal.
“I had no connection with my school or my friends for almost three months,” said Hena, who returned to school over a week ago.
When this correspondent met her, she looked despondent about her prospects in the upcoming exams. “I managed to borrow books from a few friends for a few hours, but how can I make up for so much lost time?” she said.
Mehrun, a tailor by profession, says she had not reacted when the May 23 attackers threw her sewing machine to the ground. “But when they went for Hena’s books, I pleaded with them. They wouldn’t listen,” she said.
At least 337 schoolchildren — according to an estimate — in the Kankinara-Bhatpara area share Hena’s plight ahead of term examinations that could decide whether they lose a year. It’s a bleak prospect for students whose families need them to start earning as soon as possible.
Over 300 schoolchildren from areas such as Darba Lane, Tina Godown, Kankinara Jute Mill Line and their neighbourhood have become prisoners of the post-poll violence in Bhatpara, which began in May and flared in June, leading to two deaths, several lockdowns, rioting and arrests.
At Coolie Line — the residential cluster for coal mill labourers where signs of a rampage are still visible — residents say they had expected local authorities to come to their children’s aid.
“Even if the school authorities want to help them, they are afraid to come to this area. Our children too have lost the motivation to go to school,” a resident said.
Local people said the worst-affected schools were the Himayatul Ghurba High School, Sarbodaya Vidyalay, Jagdal Town School, Kankinara Urdu Girls’ High School and Shams Urdu High School.
Mohammad Amirullah, a jute mill labourer at Darba Lane and father of Class X pupil Sarfraz Ansari, said: “On May 23 night, I watched them loot my savings and valuables but I pleaded with them to spare Sarfraz’s books.”
He rued: “I wanted to give him an education towards a better life. Now, like me, he will have to fight for survival.”
Only a handful among the affected schoolchildren and youths have received offers of help.
Sahabuddin Mansuri, a 21-year-old BBA student at Alia university who lost everything on May 20 night, is getting back on his feet with help from Calcutta-based social worker Mudar Patherya.
Patherya has also paid for the admission of the children of Prabhu Shau, a victim of the Bhatpara post-poll violence, to the Kankinara Central School.
Sources said the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), an apolitical human rights organisation, is the only agency keeping a tab on these students.
“We have so far identified 337 children who have not been attending school for the past three months as they have no uniform, books, notebooks, schoolbags or shoes. They are roaming aimlessly and are almost homeless,” said Debasish Pal, Naihati-Jagatdal unit secretary of the APDR.
“We have handed over the list to the West Bengal State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. It’s high time the state government acted.”
Child rights commission sources said one of their teams had visited the area in July. “We have got a list of students from the APDR and sent it to the education department,” Prasun Bhaumik, a member of the commission who visited the area, said.
“They will give books to the students of government-aided schools. For the non-government schools, we have spoken to social organisations.”
State urban development minister Firhad Hakim had paid a visit in July and promised complete repairs of the labourers’ homes by Id, but residents of the 100-odd huts in Darba Lane and Tina Gowdown said they were still waiting, a fortnight on.
Kulsum Nisha was at home when attackers hacked at her tin door with an axe, over the lower half of a Narendra Modi poster, and scribbled “Jai Shri Ram” under the gaping hole. Nisha and her family have sought shelter with a relative.
“We visit our home every day hoping we will see people repairing it. But that seems far away. The day my child again reads a book seems even farther,” she said.
Police officers, who local people say they expected to be the first line of help for their children, said they were not aware of the problem of school dropouts. They said the repairs at the labourers’ homes were almost complete.
“The repairs are almost complete everywhere except for Darba. We are working hard,” Manoj Varma, Barrackpore police commissioner, said.
“But no one has told me about the problem of school textbooks. I shall have to find out what the people expect from us.”