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Cattle class reply to govt school mergers in state

Ghatshila village parents won't allow kids to cross dangerously deep nullah

LOST CHILDHOOD: Students graze cattle at Dasadih village in Ghatshila on Monday. Telegraph picture

Jamshedpur: Parents at a Santhal village in East Singhbhum, 70km from the steel city where ICSE and ISC results hogged every conversation on Monday, decided not to send their children to school but gave them cattle to graze instead.

Forty children who studied at Utkramit Prathamik Vidyalaya, Dasadih village of Dumaria block, Ghatshila subdivision, till last Wednesday, could be seen in fields with cattle on Monday, as their parents boycotted their school's closure to merge with another in Janegoda village, 1.5km away, requiring children to cross a culvert over a deep nullah that floods in rain.

The Dasadih primary school is among the 3,528 identified by the state government across Jharkhand for reorganisation (closure, merger or downgrade) following a Niti Aayog recommendation. In East Singhbhum district, education officials selected 393 schools for merger/closure.

Dasadih villagers, who vowed not to send their children to the Janegoda middle school, said they took the decision after their dawn-to-dusk fast since the past four days failed to move education officials in rolling back the merger decision.

" Hum gai charane gaye thhey aj subah. School nahi gai. Baba ne mana kiya. Naya school jane ke samay puliya paar karna padhta hai. (We did not go to school, we grazed cattle. My father told me not to go to the new school as I have to cross the risky culvert)," said Karmi Murmu, a Class V boy and son of brick kiln worker Shriram Murmu.

The mukhiya of Gholabeda panchayat, which Dasadih is a part of, Sahadev Murmu (45), sided with the villagers. "Villagers fasted since Thursday against the school merger, but no one (education officials) heard them. Villagers do not want their children to risk crossing the culvert on the big nullah that floods during rains. In the past, some children have fallen there and been rescued. We generally tell small children to avoid the stretch. Now parents are saying, don't risk your lives to study, rather stay safe and graze cattle to earn a little," Murmu said.

What do children feel? Class III schoolboy Salge Murmu, whose father Fate Murmu tills other people's land using his bullocks for a living, missed the midday meal at school. He helped in grazing bullocks from 7am to 10am and had lunch at home.

On why he liked the school midday meal better, the boy kept quiet. But Fate was firm about not sending Salge to the Janegoda school. "We will feed our children at home. It is better than living in fear that your child will drown."

So far, only the JMM has been protesting the merger. But, BJP's Potka MLA Menka Sardar, under whose constituency Dasadih comes, held out a glimmer of hope.

"I have come to know about their problem and will hold a meeting with the deputy commissioner soon against merger of the school. Children will have to cross a culvert and nullah (to reach their new school), which can be dangerous," she said.

Bureaucrats did not sound sympathetic. Dumaria block education extension officer Baikunth Mahto claimed vested elements were at play. "Vested interests are misguiding villagers to protest against the government's merger decision. These people are exaggerating and preventing children from going to school," he said.

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