As you cross the border from Punjab and leave behind that perpetual construction site called Zirakpur, a replica of Le Corbusier’s Open Hand monument welcomes you. But, for another couple of kilometres, before you enter the sectored neatness of the City Beautiful, there is a rural-urban mess that could well make you think that Chandigarh is not here yet.
Sorry to point it out, but this too is Chandigarh. Teeming with invisible people who run the city’s basics all around us all day, Hallomajra is best known among the chattering classes for the chaos at its entry near a traffic signal. And it’s not something they want to see in the UT’s relatively utopian character. Don’t worry, just close your eyes; only a couple of kilometres more and you’d be away from this part of the oh-so-pretty UT.
No such luck, though, for the kids cleaning up Hallomajra’s Government Model High School. The school comprises three parts that may be called ‘wings’ to give it some respectability at least on paper — the senior classes are run in a temple building, coaching for dropouts is held at a dispensary nearby, and the junior wing is in a makeshift structure. The clean-up was on as the UT administrator’s adviser, Vijay Kumar Dev, is scheduled to visit the school. July 27, Monday, would thus be a special day. On non-special days, visitors to the school include snakes, one of whom paid a visit even on the day an HT team went to the school to tell the tale (read.ht/t5d).
As reported by my colleague Nikhil Sharma, for the around 2,000 students of senior classes who take their lessons in the temple, there is only one staircase to enter. With emergency evacuation rendered impossible in such a situation, it’s a lesson in apathy of the grave kind. Mention of norms under the Right to Education (RTE) Act and other such things may seem like dark humour here. In the name of action, the director of public instructions (DPI) suspended the headmaster and some other staff for “failing to maintain cleanliness”.
But ahead of the VIP visit, barbed wire was put up to make up for a non-existent boundary wall, cow dung and garbage around the makeshift structure was cleared, and the venues were scrubbed clean in general. A new gate was also being set up. Much of the work was being done by the students themselves; some of them carrying water buckets up two floors. In another context, this would have constituted child labour; in a different school this would have even been termed cruelty of some kind by parents who love causing traffic jams outside school gates; but here it’s hardly a problem as the kids too smile at the cameras, awaiting the periodic dose of promises.
It’s been like this for roughly half a decade now. The school — if it can be called one — presents a picture that makes one cringe at how pathetic the poor parts of Chandigarh remain. It also bares the sheer irony of the Smart City tag, which is the talk of the town and all the rage in bureaucratic circles these days. For those of us who have seen and even studied in some rural schools of, say, Punjab, this school in Hallomajra is just another pointer towards the muddled priorities of those who rule us. The fact that it’s in Chandigarh makes it particularly pathetic.
The UT education department says a building would come up when the budget is available, and that two sites have been shortlisted. If one goes by past examples, the cost of such a school would be hardly ten times the amount spent on spruce-up of the official residence of the school’s much-awaited VIP visitor. If only a new app or website, or some other e-governance jazz that the administration loves to flaunt, could give these kids a proper school.