They were on an educational tour to National Aeronautical Space Agency

On Tuesday, when students from three schools of Punjab’s Jalandhar region — on an educational tour to National Aeronautical Space Agency’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Centre in Orlando, U.S. —— returned, seven out of the 50 students who went on the tour were missing. They are, quite possibly, the latest kabootar (pigeons) — an epithet given to people from this foreign-crazy State, who have begun using foreign cultural and educational trips to stay back illegally in U.S.

After authorities in Canada, U.S. and U.K. began to dissuade Sikh religious music groups called ragi jathas , who frequent gurdwaras in those countries, cultural troupes and even sports teams from Punjab from doing so by rolling back on visas in recent years, people here have hit upon educational tours as the latest means to illegally send their children to foreign shores.

Trips to NASA have become a rage among Punjab’s schools in recent years, with more than a dozen schools sending their students there each year.

The children, all from classes XI and XII, broke away from the group at different places, and accompanying teachers was lodged complaints with the police when they realised it. The principal of the State Public School, Nakodar R.S. Puar, who accompanied the group, said: “We immediately informed the parents of the missing children, but found that they were quite unperturbed. Even now, three days after we have returned, no parent has come to complain, which shows that this was a pre-planned exercise, executed with the help of their U.S.-based relatives.”

While three students each were from the State Public School Nakodar (Manveer, Sahil Kalra and Harpreet Singh Chattha) and the State Public School Shahkot (Ranjeet Singh, Jaskaran Singh and Lavdeep Singh), one — Karanjot Singh — studied at the Emm Aar International School in Adampur. Their visas are due to expire on May 28th.

Advised against doing it

Interestingly, the Delhi-based company that markets and organises educational tours to NASA held a video conference with the parents of the children before they left, and warned them against doing anything like this.

This, said chairman of the Emm Aar International School Dr. Sarv Tandon, was done because people in the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshirpur and Nawanshahr were infamous for using a variety of unlawful means to reach foreign shores.

Nearly every family here has one or more family members working or living abroad. “Students told us that one of the boys was picked up by a car when he was standing in a queue to enter a hotel at Niagara Falls,” Dr. Tandon said. The schools even took the precaution of getting the parents that to sign an affidavit saying their children should not escape while travelling.

Every year students from more than a dozen Punjab schools visit NASA. Each trip costs Rs. 2 lakh or more per head and mostly children of rural-landed community, studying in upmarket private schools, avail themselves of the opportunity.