For the past 35 years, villagers in Amboli in Gujarat’s Surat district, along with the staff of a government school, have been celebrating Independence Day together by hoisting the tricolour on the school campus.
This year, the celebrations were separate. Villagers choose to boycott 22 HIV-positive girl students who joined the school last year.
On Friday, not a single villager was present on the campus as the school principal, Tara Patel, along with six teachers and the 22 girls unfurled the national flag, sang the national anthem and distributed sweets.
Meanwhile, outside the village’s Gram Panchayat office in Kamrej taluka, a simultaneous flag-hoisting ceremony was organised. The event was attended by more than 200 villagers. The flag was hoisted by sarpanch Hameeda Ali and deputy sarpanch Sanjay Ahir, followed by the national anthem and distribution of sweets.
“For the past 25 years, I have been teaching in this school. Till last year, we used to celebrate Independence Day together. We used to organise elocution competition, drawing competition and singing competition and the village sarpanch used to give medals and prizes to the students. But this year, villagers have boycotted us. We are helpless,” said Patel.
More than 210 students, mostly Dalits and tribals, used to study at the school till last year. The situation changed when 22 HIV-positive girls staying in the Janni Dham hostel, just two kilometers from the village, joined the school. Villagers opposed the move and stopped sending their children to school.
The girls are between Class II and Class VII. Though the district panchayat health department officials and the village tried to convince the villagers, they failed.
Ahir said, “Nobody from the village went for the celebrations at the school. The villagers are not against the school or HIV-positive girls, but they are scared of their children getting infected.”
“The P P Sawani Group (which is in charge of the hostel where the girls are staying) is big and has no financial problems. They should have arranged teaching staff in the hostel itself,” Ahir said.
Former Apple executive and Dwarka MLA Adarsh Shastri has also been included in the spokespersons’ list.