In Kallakurichi village, parents and students in search of alternative schools
The Federal visited Kaniyamur village in Kallakurichi district to speak to bewildered students, perturbed parents, and a rural, uneducated population lamenting the vandalising of a decades-old school
Following violent protests on Sunday, July 17, the Sakthi Matriculation School in Kaniyamur village, near Chinna Salem in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi district, has been vandalised. A few buildings nearby were even set on fire. The police were kept on high alert and guarded the highway leading to the school.
Had the police not barricaded the school, barring any visitor’s entry into the premises, the school building would have been unidentifiable. A dozen policemen were on guard in front of the school.
The Federal observed people visiting the school entrance with their wards to see whether there was any activity near the place.
“We paid money to them and they taught you. The teachers might have been good or bad to you. But, they taught you only because they were being paid by the school. You need not take it personally and feel bad about it,” a parent advised a 17-year-old girl in school uniform.
The teenager was apparently one of the classmates of the girl who died in the school premises on July 13.
Speaking to The Federal, the girl’s father expressed his inability to convince his daughter that the school was vandalised and he had to admit her to a different school. “When she saw the news on television channels, she refused to believe that it was her school that it was vandalised. I saw the school and it looks like it will not be open any time soon. That’s when I started to inquire about the nearby schools to admit her. But, she kept crying at home, refusing to believe that the school was destroyed and it won’t be opening for now,” said the father, who hails from Kacharapalayam, around 20 km from the private school.
The father explained that he brought his daughter in uniform just to mollify her. She had been keen to visit the school. To avoid police questioning, he asked her to wear her school uniform.
The father has inquired at least four schools in the neighbourhood and is planning to admit his daughter to one of them in the coming days.
“Neither the government nor the school administration has given any update about the school opening. I cannot afford the loss of my child’s education. I will admit her somewhere soon,” he told The Federal.
He was one among the many parents and children who periodically visit the school to check for updates on reopening.
Another parent, Senthil from Aduthuvainaththam village, around 15 km from the school, has a son studying in Class X. He said the school would not have come to such a state had the government ensured action when the first complaint was filed.
“It should be around four years ago. There was a huge protest after the school management made the students stand outside the school an entire day for not paying the fees. When the parents came to know about it and approached the district collector and other officials, nobody took any action against the school. They just held talks with the parents and the school management and the issue was diluted,” recalled Senthil.
“If the government had intervened then, it might not have led to such a situation now,” he added.
Feeling sorry for the girl who died inside the school premises, Senthil said that now 4,000 students will pay the price for the ill-treatment of the victim.
“We don’t think the government will take any action to admit the students in this school or to any other school. We ourselves have to look for ways to admit our children. My son is studying in Class 10 and I cannot wait until the government comes up with a plan to admit the students in this school elsewhere,” Senthil shared.
Staff not spared, either
Palanisamy (name changed), a resident of Chinna Salem, and a former employee at the school, fumed about his experience in the school, working as a van cleaner. “When I was working here, if the school van was not clean, the school chairman used to call me to his room and beat me black and blue. He never minded the fact that I am a grown-up. He beats everybody who he thinks has done something wrong,” said Palanisamy.
Asked if his children were studying in the school, Palanisamy said that he never wanted his children to undergo whatever he underwent as a staffer there. “They don’t let the children relax. They pressurise the children and even beat them. I admitted them to a private school where they don’t harass them like this,” he said.
Explaining how the school would normally function, Palanisamy said the students at the hostel never got time to play or relax. According to him, soon after school got over, at 4 or 4.30 pm, all the students including the day scholars usually had special classes at least till 6 pm.
“After that, the hostellers had to go for the study session from evening 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm. After one hour of the dinner break, they have to again sit for the study session from 9.30 to 11 pm. Again, they have to wake up at 5 am,” he shared.
A village in sorrow
People in Kaniyamur village, where the school is located, feel sorry for the current state of the school.
“We were angry with the school management’s behaviour and their attitude toward the students and parents. But, we never wanted the school to be destroyed like this. We know the importance of education. We are not educated, but we felt happy that at least our next generation has access to schools,” a villager who didn’t wish to be named told The Federal.
The villagers also said that they were not involved in the violent riots.
“Why would we vandalise a school which has been here for years? The school has been here since 1998. If the villagers’ aim was to vandalise it, we would have done it long ago. But, that’s not the point. We wanted the school to treat our children properly. It’s sad to see the school in such a state. Now, think about the children studying in this school,” remarked a woman in her mid-30s, waiting at the Kaniyamoor bus stand to catch a bus to Kallakurichi.
Outsiders vs locals
She further said most people involved in the riot were outsiders and not locals. “We are here for generations. Even before this school came here, even before this road was made a four-way lane, we were here. We know the locals. But, of the 100 people only less than 20 would have been the locals,” she said.
When asked about the status of the students studying at the private school, Tamil Nadu Education Minister Anbil Mahesh said the state government is taking steps to enrol them in nearby government schools and other private schools.