Rashibul Mollah, 16, is a class ten student of Champagachi Higher Secondary School in Bhangar. Since January 17, he is too scared to leave his village Majhidanga . Now after sundown, he picks up a stick and, with many like him, walk around the village as a night guard keeping a watch for police and miscreants.
Md Mumtazuddin Mollah is a class 8 student of Polarhat Senior Madrasa. He, too, has been away from his class since the trouble on Tuesday. But he stands guard with his friends and elders at the village crossing from evening till 9 pm, when another group takes over.
Rashibul and Mumtazuddin are not exceptions. A few thousand school students of Bhangar have been forced to shun classes following land agitation and clash with police. Many of the children now are a part the land agitation, and they take turns to act a night guards to fend off police and outsiders.
“Many of us will sit for secondary (10 level) and higher secondary (plus two) examinations which are just a month away. We cannot go to school since police attacked our villages and there was a clash. We are too scared to leave the area. After sundown, we join the elders for night patrolling. We will not allow police or ruling party miscreants to enter the village,” said Rashibul, who refused to be videoed.
Barricades are still intact at many junctions in the area that is out of bounds for police and administration. Charred police vehicles that the angry villagers pushed into local ponds still stand as reminder of the clash.
The situation is has an eerie similarity with Nandigram and Singur agitations in 2007, where school children became a part of the agitation. Interestingly, in agitations in Kashmir and Maoist-dominated areas too, teenagers often form part of the agitators.
“My family is scared. We are part of the agitation. But I don’t stay out after 9 pm.
Someone else takes my place. We also help in fitting electric bulbs in hundreds of poles in the villages so that outsiders cannot sneak in under the cover of darkness,” said Mumtazuddin.
Over 1,500 students of different villages of Bhangar including Khamer Ait, Majhidanga, Padmapukur, Tona Gajipur, study in the two local high schools. There are over two dozen government-run and private primary schools enrolling thousands of students. More than 100 college students are also affected.
Some of the students who agitated and clashed with police were injured. Students, teenagers helped in setting by road blockades, and even lobbing bricks at policemen, who fired tear gas shells and wielded lathis on January 17.
“How will I pass in the board exam? I cannot go to school in this situation. Our full syllabus hasn’t been taught. Moreover, my tutor in the village who was part of the agitation fled the area,” said Sheikh Sahil Hussain, class X student of Champagachi high school.
“Parents are concerned and scared. They are not sending their children anymore to school. What will happen if the police try to re-enter this area? We are all scared,” said Suraiya Begum, head teacher at Anandadhara KG School in Majhidanga village. About 100 children study in the school that is now deserted.
Agitators, part of Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (Committee to Protect Land Livelihood, Environment and Ecosystem) have been holding regular meetings in the villages. The agitators demanded the release of 11 villagers arrested by police.
“Everyone is affected by police brutality and everyone is fighting, even children. We demand that the government give us in writing, remove the power grid and return land to farmers. We also demand immediate release of those arrested and withdrawal of cases. Police have lodged case against 120 villagers and written that 400 others were involved,” said Abul Hussain, a protesting villager.