It was a forced holiday for students of Upper Primary School at Kamaalpur village in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh when communal violence spread in May.
Parents stopped sending their children to school, fearing for their safety. The attendance declined and the school reached the brink of closure, till Abhishek, a Dalit student of Class 8, decided to step in.
He mobilised a number of students and formed a small ‘toli’ (group).
“Each day after school, I started moving in the village, appealing to friends and their parents that studies must continue,” said the 14-year-old, who did his best to boost the morale of edgy parents.
“The school is situated in a predominantly Muslim area. Of the 225 students, 117 are Muslims.”
Though the riots did not reach the village, rumours triggered panic among parents.
"Classes had to be discontinued due to low attendance of students. It was a difficult time," said Abhishek.
President awardee Abdul Samad, the school principal, is all praise for Abhishek.
"The boy did a wonderful job for the school. When most parents were reluctant to send their kids, he moved about with a small group of students to restore their confidence. The idea worked and gradually parents started sending their children to school. The attendance is normal now."
Samad added, "Though the Meerut administration deployed extra force to defuse communal tension, it was not enough to boost people’s confidence. But Abhishek stepped in undaunted."
Abhishek (Right) standing with his teacher Ruchi Shrotriya. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)
Abhishek’s efforts have made a mark. He will be felicitated with the Meena Award in Lucknow on Wednesday.
The Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and Unicef will jointly give the award to Abhishek and 23 other children for their distinguished work in social sector to spread awareness on various issues.
Abhishek has more to his credit. He is also responsible for beautifying the school. The teenager and his friends help keep the campus clean and green.
He also counselled his father, Tej Pal, and helped him quit smoking.
"I was a habitual bidi smoker. One day, my son snatched the bidi from my hand and threw it into a gutter. I thrashed him hard. But later he explained the ill-effects of bidi and I decided to quit," said Tej Pal, who works as a farm labourer and doubles up as a vegetable vendor.
Normalcy has returned and Kamaalpur is ready to welcome Abhishek when he returns after receiving the Meena Award.