On December 29 last year, several Muslims mourned the death of the only Hindu who was living amidst them in their remote village in Tripura along the border with Bangladesh.
Sumati Sutradhar (65), a childless woman, was more than a fellow-villager to the thousands of Muslims residing in Jubrajnagar in Tripura’s Unakoti district.
In 1999, soon after her husband’s death, she had donated her land to the state government to build a school for girls which has gained in stature, witnessing 550 passouts in the last 16 years.
- In 1999, after her husband’s death, Sumati Sutradhar had donated her land to the state government to build a school for girls
- The donation ensured education for Muslim girls, who were being discouraged from going to school
- Initially, many villagers did not approve of the school, but later realised the magnitude of Sumati’s service to their daughters
In the Muslim-dominated village, there was constant pressure on her to give up her land as neighbours had been trying to encroach ever since she and her husband settled there after the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971.
The land donation to the Tripura education department killed two birds with one stone—she ensured protection of her land and ensured education for Muslim girls, who were being discouraged from going to school.
Sumati also got Rs 3,000 as monthly allowance for her basic needs and was allowed to stay in a small room of the school building till death.
Inaugurated on December 31, 1999, the school was upgraded to higher secondary in 2010 and became Jubrajnagar Colony Girls’ Higher Secondary School. As the school grew in stature, Hindu families from nearby villages began enrolling their girls there. At least 823 girls study there now.
Initially, many villagers did not approve of the school, but later realised the magnitude of Sumati’s service for their daughters.
Now, a week after her death, they want the school named after her.
“Some villagers want to rename the school after Sumati Devi. We shall be discussing this at a meeting with the village head,” Manik Ali, a former teacher, said. His daughter had passed out from the school.
“Sumati Devi deserves the honour because she was the reason why many girls of the area are educated today. She did not regret donating the land, and was happy to see so many girls come to the school on her land,” Anjan Banik, another ex-teacher, said.
Banik said the teachers and villagers could write to the government for renaming the school officially after Sumati Sutradhar.