In the tiny area of Puncha, around 50 km from Purulia town, is a school with a unique story. A total of 112 children aged 6 to 13 years are here.
More than a school, this is a ‘home’ for abandoned or nearly-abandoned kids. In addition to regular studies, the school also takes care of the kids by feeding them and keeping them comfortable.
The Puncha Nabadisha Model School stands because of the sacrifices of Arup Mukherjee. Kolkata Police’s 42-year-old constable Arup started this initiative back in 2011, and today runs the residential facility solely with his savings, salary and the occasional help from good samaritans, reports the Indian Express.
What started in 2011 with 20 students in two rooms and a verandah, has blossomed into nine rooms, a separate kitchen, classrooms, CCTV cameras, a separate washroom and toilet, all spread over 13 kathas of land or 9,000 sq ft. The school provides lodging, food, education, clothes, uniforms and educational material to the kids, all free of cost.
All the children in the community are Sabars, a group once classified by the British as a ‘criminal tribe’. Their lives have been mostly unchanged, even after the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 got repealed in 1952.
The school is a respite from ostracisation and hounding from local cops. Deemed untouchable by other communities, the Sabars are viewed with suspicion. However, the school run by Arup gives Sabar children food and clothes, and a place to rest.
Arup himself had grown up hearing tales about the Sabars from his grandfather. So he had always wanted to start a school for the kids. He joined the Kolkata Police in 1999. He saved money and borrowed some, and finally started the school, with the donation of a plot by a local person.
There has been help from other quarters as well, especially after Arup was felicitated in a Bengali television show by the former Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly. The channel and sponsors contributed in cash, and some former students of the Ramakrishna Mission School contributed in kind, with a quintal of rice, and 10 kg of pulses every month.
Arup collects Rs 2,000 every month, from his father and uncle, both retired cops. Local doctors treat the children for free. Even the teachers Arup has employed have no qualms giving up their Rs 500 monthly salary. Every drop fills the ocean, and every contribution helps the school run smoothly.
As for the villagers, they are thrilled, and as Sarala Sabar who sends her children to school optimistically echoes, maybe the children will become something someday!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)