Days after the September 20 violence in Islampur in West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur district, the Daribhit High School remains shut. The sprawling football field outside the school bears deep scars of the incident, when protests over the appointment of two teachers led to clashes in which two former students were killed. Inside, books, answer sheets, computers and official documents lie strewn on the floor. In one of the classrooms, bicycles, meant for distribution under a state government scheme, lie in a heap.
On September 20, villagers and students — angry over the appointment of Urdu teacher Md Sanaullah Rehmani and Sanskrit teacher Touranga Mullick while they had been demanding teachers for science and other subjects – allegedly ransacked the school and attacked the teachers.
Villagers say the school has a teacher vacancy of 50 per cent and that anger had been building up over this for a while. According to sources, there are 20 vacant posts in the school (after excluding the two recent appointments). Apart from headmaster Avijit Kundu and the assistant headmaster, who is due to retire in a couple of months, there are 19 teachers and para-teachers in the school. The school, established in 1969, has 1,951 students, of whom 89.5% are SC students, 0.5% ST and 10% minority students.
A teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “There is only one maths teacher in the school. There are no science teachers for the higher secondary classes. Since last year, the school education department stopped sending science books to us. Every day, we have to take three or four additional classes since there aren’t enough of us. Sometimes we take two classes at a time, walking from one room to another.”
Teachers say that apart from teaching work, their time gets taken up by all the co-ordination and implemention that they are required to do for government schemes.
Every year, around 250-300 students from the school appear for the Class 10 examination. This year, 49 per cent students passed, with only two getting 60 per cent and above. This year, 95 per cent of 100-odd higher secondary students cleared their Class 12 exam, with 12 scoring above 60 per cent.
While a majority of villagers want the school to be reopened with the Board exams a few months away, some of them have stuck to their position that the school will stay shut unless a CBI inquiry is ordered into the deaths of the two youths, allegedly in police firing.
“I had a word with the District School Inspector and Sub Divisional Officer on reopening the school. We will talk to villagers and make them understand that it is important that the school is opened,” said Trinamool Congress MLA Kanhaiyalal Agarwal.
Subhas Sarkar, a farmer whose daughter Mou is a Class 11 student of the school, says, “The school should re-open. With every passing day, my daughter is losing time before her exams. But keeping the sentiments of locals and students in mind, the government should order a CBI inquiry into the incident.” Incidentally, Subhash’s nephew Rajesh Sarkar, 19, was one of the two former students who died in last week’s clash.
Asim Adhikari, a Class 12 student whose brother Subhas studies in the same school in Class 6, says, “We don’t have teachers in our school. Every day after lunch break, we play because there are no teachers. The syllabus never gets completed. We kept asking for teachers but no one listened. And then they bring in teachers for useless subjects… that’s when the students protested. The school should be reopened and proper investigation should be done.”
On September 26, a few teachers went to the school to reopen it, but some of the villagers allegedly abused them and chased them away.
“We are trying to talk to villagers and parents of the students, trying to convince them to let us reopen the school. All the documents, including registration documents of Class 10 students which we were to have been submitted to the education board this month, have been destroyed. Now we have to do it all over again. If the school remains closed for so many days, how will we finish the syllabus? How will we hold the unit test in November? Moreover, now there is a rift between students and teachers. We are all scared to go to school,” says Asraful Haq, a teacher.
He added that work on government programmes – minority scholarships, the Sabuj Sathi scheme (free bicycles for students), the Kanyashree programme for girls — which is coordinated from the school, have also been delayed.
But some of the villagers have stuck to their stand – that the school won’t reopen unless a CBI probe is ordered into the deaths.
“Until our demand for a CBI inquiry into the killing of the two youths is met, we will not allow authorities to reopen the school. Police lathi charged and fired on students. They will boycott school until a proper investigation is done,” says Lalon Mondol, a local villager.