A school in a West Bengal village is closed for the last five days, courtesy a "ghost" that resides in a haunted century-old neighbourhood house and "possesses" young girl students at will.
Toiba High School at Kusumgram - a village in Burdwan district about 150 km from Kolkata - is stalked by the fear of an evil spirit these days after several girl students of the co-educational institution fell unconscious while in class.
Headmaster Sheikh Abdul Rashid, who was forced to declare holiday for an unspecified number of days, was uncertain whether classes could be resumed at all as superstition and wild rumours gripped not only the students but also their parents.
Rashid is going from home to home trying to convince parents that there isn't any such thing as an "evil spirit", but without much success.
However, Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha (PBVM), a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against superstition and supports promotion of scientific thinking, has met with some success. It has convinced the children's parents to gather for a meeting on the school premises on Tuesday to bust the fear and make their children attend a health check up camp.
"We have met the parents and by studying the case history of the girls who fainted we found that most of them were suffering from various ailments, including hysteria," Srirup Gopal Goswami of PBVM Burdwan unit told IANS.
"Also these times it is so hot and humid inside the village schools that falling unconscious is not uncommon," he said.
"We feel that some vested interest groups which want the school to close down for their benefit are also at work in the area."
Trouble started on last Tuesday when Class 11 student Sweety Khatoon started feeling dizzy and fainted during the morning prayer. The same day, Class 12 student Sonali Khatoon fell unconscious in her classroom.
The following day, four Class 5 students fell unconscious in their classrooms. By Thursday, 11 girls had fallen sick.
All the students who fainted were girls, fuelling the fear that the "ghost" was targeting them.
"Along with the other teachers I've tried to convince the parents that what they have heard is a rumour. But they aren't willing to send their children to school," Rashid said.
Block medical officer Krishnendu Mukherjee treated two of the students who fell unconscious. "One of the girls was suffering from severe indigestion and felt better with medication. Another student is a patient of chronic hysteria and we had to sedate her. Both recovered after treatment. Tension stemming from the rumour could also have led to the fainting," the doctor said.
The sprawling but run-down house adjacent to the school belonged to a zamindar (landlord)- Syed Badruddoja - who died in the 1960s. His heirs now live in Kolkata.
The local block development officer (BDO) said a medical team would be sent to the village to check the students who took ill.