The death toll in northeast Delhi violence would have been alarming, but for the sheer luck of the students of four schools and one Madarsa that were brutally attacked and, with a lone exception, reduced to ruins within a matter of a few hours.
For the 2,000 students enrolled in these educational institutions, one of the few silver linings of the gory dance of violence was that students were not present at three of the schools when mobs struck.
Following the targeted attacks on these schools and keeping in mind the safety of students in the tension-filled area, the Delhi Government’s Department of Education has ordered all schools in the riot-hit region to be closed till March 7.
Annual exams in the schools located in northeast Delhi have been postponed indefinitely, creating chaos for the students of 73 schools located in the area and 7 other schools in adjoining areas of East Delhi that are also covered under the Education Department’s order.
When goons came knocking at the doors of Chand Bagh’s Victoria Senior Secondary School, students were in the middle of the exams and the gates of the school were locked. The 300 students inside the exam centre were out of danger since the compound walls of the school were secure enough and rioters could not enter the premises.
The hapless students, however, were disrupted in the middle of one of the exams and faced anxious moments while returning home, said people of the area who suffered in the unfortunate clashes.
Stones were being rained on the street outside and mobs were running amok, creating utter chaos. Parents who had come to pick up the children faced great difficulty in negotiating in the violence-torn area and were ushered through a rear gate from where the students had a safe passage.
Many other schools were not as lucky as Victoria Senior Secondary School. For example, Arun Modern Public School was burnt into rubble by a marauding mob who had a free run of the place for a whole day.
So unchallenged were the rioters that they destroyed the school, classroom by classroom, besides setting fire to the school bus. Furniture, books, computers, documents — nothing was spared as vengeful mobs stayed there for hours to ensure that nothing escapes the destruction.
Luckily, no student or teacher was present at the school located in Mustafabad, one of the areas most affected by the violence.
The communal riots also tore apart a nearby Madarsa at Farooqiya Masjid in Brijpuri. From Arun Modern Public School that was burning, it did not take much time for the violence to engulf neighbouring Farooqiya Masjid where people had gathered. More than 50 kids present at the Madarsa were first taken into safe custody inside the Masjid by the adults present there and then whisked away to safety before the place was gutted by arsonists.
At nearby Shiv Vihar, which along with neighbouring Karawal Nagar, turned out to be one of the most violent areas where considerable damage has been inflicted by the riots, Rajdhani Senior Secondary School bore the brunt of the attack as those present at that time scooted to save their lives, after evacuating a few students who were present there.
DRP Convent School also faced considerable damage as mobs pulled out desks and burnt them while ransacking the entire premises.
In most cases, it was sheer luck and presence of mind of some good samaritans that saved students even as riots raged all over. In case students had come under attack, the situation would have been far worse.
While that unfortunate situation has been avoided, now people of other areas are scared to send their kids to exam centres located in the northeast region of the national capital. A petition has also been filed in the Delhi High Court to allocate exam centres in other areas to the students.
The stress faced by the students of the damaged schools could also have an impact on young minds who have seen their classrooms reduced to ash.
Interestingly, government schools remained unaffected and none of them have reported any major damage, according to officials of the Department of Education.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia are directly looking into the difficulties faced by private school students, they said.
In the case of Arun Modern Public School, students may be accommodated in nearby government schools so that their studies are not affected. Similar arrangements will be made for other schools whose infrastructure is affected, the officials said.
The vicious attack on these schools follow close on the heels of Delhi’s government schools coming up for praise during the recent assembly elections, leading First lady of the United States Melania Trump to visit one located in South Delhi to witness a ‘Happiness Class’ that has been popularised by the Kejriwal government.