When a school in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas closed for panchayat polls reopened after four days on July 10, it bore witness to the violence that marred the election. The furniture and at least 10 ceiling fans at the school, where polling booths were set up, were severely damaged.
An 11-year-old student said he was having a tough time in the absence of a blackboard during mathematics classes in a makeshift classroom they were forced to move to since the school reopened. “I could not follow the fractions and geometry, which the maths teacher was explaining. Usually, the maths teacher writes and draws on the blackboard to explain concepts to us,” said the student.
A 12-year-old class 6 student at the same school faced the same problem during English classes. “The teacher writes things on the board while teaching. Without a blackboard, it is difficult to follow what he is teaching. The new classroom we are using now is too hot as it is on the top floor of a cyclone shelter.”
At least 18 people were killed on the day of the three-tier panchayat polls on July 8 amid allegations of rigging and booth capturing. Many schools, where polling booths were set up, were attacked.
Sukhendu Sekhar Ghosh, the North 24 Parganas school headmaster, said the classes were last held before the polls on July 6. “The school reopened on July 10 after the polling. Two rooms of our school were used as polling booths. When we returned we saw that the furniture…a table, a chair, and at least five benches were broken. At least 10 ceiling fans were damaged.”
The damage caused to the school forced it to shift classes 5 and 6 to the cyclone shelter on the school premises which at least has fans.
Saju Ahmed Sarkar, in charge of a school at Dinhata in Cooch Behar which was also attacked on the polling day, said they lost four chairs, two tables, one bench, and two ceiling fans. “The blades of the ceiling fan were twisted. We somehow managed to straighten them. We have brought in chairs and benches from other classrooms.”
Similar reports of attacks on polling booths set up in schools and colleges have been pouring in.
Ahsanul Hoque, the teacher in charge of a primary school in Malda district, said two windows and furniture of their institute were broken. “We have rearranged the seats so that no students sit close to the windows. This is the monsoon season and if it rains, they will get wet as the windows cannot be bolted.”
At a school in Murshidabad’s Raghunathganj, the doors of toilets, windows, a classroom, and bulbs were damaged when supporters of two parties attacked each other with stones and rods at the polling station set up there.
The in charge of a school in Howrah that was attacked said depending on the number of students and how big the schools are, the state government provides only around ₹25,000 to ₹50,000 annually as composite funds to meet their expenses. “How will we manage if the entire money is drained out to repair fans and furniture after polls?”
The Calcutta high court on July 12 directed the state government and state election commission to restore and repair the schools damaged in the violence. The state government will meet the costs until the people involved in the damage are identified and asked to pay for the damages. Officials said they have started collecting information on schools that need assistance.
An official said district school inspectors have asked school authorities to provide information about the damage. He added the cost would be huge as multiple schools were attacked.