Around 200 kids in Ambernath have turned vigilantes to prevent their school from being taken over and demolished by a group of goons. For the past two days, the students, who live in nearby villages, have been guarding Anugraha Vidya Mandir day and night, making sure ‘unwanted visitors’ stay away.
Even their parents have been keeping a watch. The English medium school, in Ambernath’s Phansipada area, was started in 2005 to educate children whose families cannot afford formal schooling. Apart from farmers’ kids, orphans and delinquents are also enrolled there.
On Wednesday, some men stormed the school compound, and tore down its makeshift fence. They claimed that the plot on which the school - a ground-level structure with four classrooms - stands belonged to them. “I was shocked. How can they claim the land, when I have all the ownership papers,” said Dr Ila Paul, who bought the land and started Anugraha mandir by digging into her savings.
Days before the incident, Dr Ila received a notice from the local civic body, asking her to demolish the school by June 7 or face action. She alleged that owners of a proposed private school in the area were trying to grab her land. The owners had bought a 2-acre plot in Phansipada sometime back.
|The students of Anugraha Vidya Mandir form a human chain to keep goons from entering the school
“Since most of the land here has been encroached upon, they could not take possession of their plot. Finally, they decided to target an organisation for the underprivileged that has no political backing,” she said, adding that her repeated pleas for help to officials had gone unheard.
Dr Ila is in the process of approaching a court to save the school. She - and the 200 children - will to have to wait for weeks before getting any legal relief. Till that time, the children have decided to guard the school. “Vacations are on, so there is no one to keep a watch. This is why we have taken matters into our own hands,” said a student, Mayur Naidu.
Another student, Archana Waghchaure, they may be children, but they won’t back down. “We won’t let goons take over our school,” she said. Forty-two inmates of nearby Anugaraha Children’s Home have also joined the fight.
Phansipada farmer Keshav Kandhare, whose kids study at the school, said that it was the only hope for poor students. “We cannot afford to send our children to private schools. This is the only place where our children can get education and ultimately overcome poverty,” he said. Another parent, Waman Sambhare, said that they would not let anyone demolish the school.
Sunil Chaudhari, the president of Ambernath Municipal Council, said that the demolition notice had been issued, but he would stall the process. “I will see to it that the school is not brought down,” he said. Local MLA Balaji Kinikar has also backed the students’ fight. “The civic body is pandering to the land mafia,” he alleged.