The three-room building resembles a cowshed, tied to hardwood poles rigged to the ground and a coat of dung paste on cracked walls. Bereft of furniture, a dust-covered blackboard is the only sign that it is actually a school.
But there is no student, no teacher. And it’s not a holiday either.
This primary school at Khervaray Ka Pura-Sangoli village, about 465km north of Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal, mocks at the government’s right to education, which guarantees basic schooling for all children in India.
The school established specifically for Dalit children about a decade ago has 30 students from Class 1 to Class 5 and sanctioned staff strength of two teachers, who are to teach all subjects.
But classes are rare, and teachers from a nearby middle school said some of the students passing from the primary don’t even know the alphabets.
At the root of this neglect is a deep-seated caste divide, villagers complained.
The lone permanent teacher, who was also the headmaster, belongs to a higher caste and he was allegedly prejudiced towards the Dalit children under his care. He was accused of telling students who will work in higher caste people’s farms if they were educated.
“As the school is in Harijan Basti, the students are untouchables for the teacher. The teachers hardly come. This is why we now keep our cattle there,” said Radheshyam Jatav, a villager, who blamed the headmaster for “ruining the future of a generation”.
Headmaster Ramkumar Tomar dismissed the allegations, saying he has been honest in work and doesn’t believe in casteism and untouchability.
But villagers suspect his honesty. They said the teachers enroll every newborn in Harijan Basti to the school without even informing the parents.
“The enrolment is done to get a higher quota of mid-day meal for students, which is, however, served occasionally to children studying in the school,” said Suraj Jatav, a student.
That is perhaps why six-year-old Guddu studies in class 5, though his age requires him to be in class 1. Likewise, seven-year-old Devesh passed class 5.
The school kitchen is in a shambles much like the rest of the building. People used it to store cattle feed and cow dung — used as manure and to make sun-dried cakes for fuel.
The designated mid-day meal cook, Angoori Devi, said: “The teacher ordered me to cook food occasionally, only 250 grams of dal and rotis. The kitchen is full of dung, so I cook at home and ask children to get their own plates.”
Block education officer Badam Singh confirmed that the department had received complaint from villagers. “That is why we transferred the teacher to a nearby school 20 days ago and appointed another, named Kanchan Singh,” he said.
Villagers wondered if a teacher’s transfer could change the school and offset the loss their kids suffered in the past 10 years.
“The new teacher, who belongs to Dalit community, has come only twice to the school. He is probably following in Tomar’s footsteps,” said Deep Singh, a villager.