Every morning, Amritha T. rides the bus from her home at Moozhikkal to what she calls her ‘happy’ place – her school.
Her satchel slung over her shoulder, the chirpy girl with an infectious smile walks into the compound of the Aided Upper Primary School, Malaparamba, for lessons in her favourite subjects of Malayalam, English and Science.
A bonus for her is the computer in the school lab. There she learns typing in between video games. School headmistress Preethi N.M. says Amritha is a computer whiz.
In school, Amritha is not the mentally-challenged girl the outside world sees her as. She is one among 53 schoolmates, in fact, their leader in many ways.
But on April 12, in the dead of the night, the ‘outside world’ in the form of an excavator powered by unknown hands came visiting Amritha’s ‘happy place’, wrecking it.
Her classroom was among the seven rooms razed in the midnight demolition. The machine’s steel arm shattered her companion, the school computer. A small shelf of school books lies somewhere buried in the debris.
Since the incident, reams have been written about the demolition. The fact that the incident happened during the Lok Sabha elections and shortly after polling, during which the school functioned as a booth, upped the ante.
Politicians have pledged support to the school’s cause. The school manager, accused of orchestrating the incident, is absconding. Meanwhile, Rs. 3 lakh has been received from individuals and organisations to renovate the building before school re-opens in June. But the support and quick-fix remedies do little to heal the bitterness within the children’s hearts caused by the incident. The healing will take time.
“It is not right to demolish the school,” Abhay K.P., the school leader, said.
“I want to study and become a doctor. But our studies has been stopped,” Sanjay N. said. The midnight demolition was a violent, albeit untimely, development to a slow build-up mobilised by the school management to close the century-old Malayalam medium institution as an ‘uneconomical’ venture.
What was the point of the school, the management had asked the government, when a portion of it was anyway going to be knocked down for widening the Mananchira-Vellimadukunnu Road.
But Education Minister P.K. Abdu Rabb had put the closure on hold after Kozhikode North MLA, A. Pradeepkumar, intervened in the Assembly.
“If this was an uneconomical school, we should have been given prior notice. None was served. A school cannot be closed down merely on the request of the management. The Directorate of Public Instruction conducts a detailed verification of the school records and functioning. Issues prior notice and hears objections. Closing an active public school as ‘uneconomical’ should be a transparent and rare alternative,” Ravindran V.P., a retired education department official and now a member of the school protection committee, said.
If the April 12 demolition was an effort at quick death of the school, lack of basic funds is slowly choking the heritage school into a slow demise.
Ajith Prasad, an old student, said the education department, instead of closing the school, should have made efforts to help the school tide over the rash of competition from private, English-medium institutions.
“Admissions have dropped over the years. The school’s maintenance is done taking money from the teachers’ funds,” Mr. Prasad said.