Two kilometres from a CRPF camp that was attacked by Maoists near Sereng Swakra village in Bankura district in January, the rebels guide the running of a co-educational primary school (kindergarten to class IV) funded by residents of nearby villages.
Set up in 2003, the school holds regular classes, serves midday meals for 120 students and provides residential facilities for 50 of the children. The students are taught by eight young men from the villages. They teach and run the Kherwal Primary School without any salary.
The school also provides students free uniforms, textbooks and allied material. Hostellers get three meals a day and bedding that is paid for by the local community.
When the HT team visited the school on Monday, the children were having a lunch of rice, dal, mashed potatoes and vegetables. “We give them chicken or fish once a week,” said headmaster Baburam Kisku.
From the food to the beds, everything was spartan but organised, clean and well maintained.
After the school moved to a new building 16 months ago, the villagers sought the administration’s help to provide the midday meal. “But they just didn’t bother. So we decided to do it ourselves,” said principal Kisku.
Arun Mahato, whose son studies in the school, said, “The students are taught lessons in hygiene also and teachers are more caring than those in other (government) schools.”
Caring from the community comes in the form of food and sundry items. Apart from the donations, it costs the community Rs 20,000 a month to run the school located on a hillock surrounded by a dense forest in the heart of the Maoist terrain.
Bankura is one of Bengal’s three districts where the Maoists hold sway in the rural areas, the other two being West Midnapore and Purulia.
“In our village, they (Maoists) have directed every farmer with more than 25 bighas (8 acres) of land to donate surplus rice to the school otherwise they would destroy the rice,” said Kanai Pal of neighbouring Phuljhor village. “The school also gets cash to buy uniforms, food and utensils,” he added.
The school shifted to a new building donated by John Scottus Senior School of Dublin in coordination with Kolkata’s Loreto Day School in December 2008. But these institutions have no role in the functioning of Kherwal Primary School.