WEST BENGAL: Arup Mukherjee loves the sight of children going to school. The traffic constable in Kolkata had made a promise to himself when he was hardly six years old at the behest of his grandfather: when he grows up, he would save money and open a school, some day.
He joined Kolkata police in 1999 and started saving immediately. Now 43, when Mukherjee is not managing traffic, he is busy pursuing his mission to rehabilitate children belonging to the Sabar tribe community, considered the poorest section.
He convinces their unlettered parents to send their daughters and sons to a boarding school that he has set up in Barabazar block in Purulia district.
Mukherjee’s Puncha Nabadisha Model School offers a roof over the head of 126 Sabar children, enough food every day and basic education free of cost.
He is known as ‘Sabar Pita ‘(Sabar’s father) in the region. His zeal to educate children from the Sabar tribe arose from his childhood experience of seeing policemen frequently dragging the poor, helpless people of the community for one crime or another.
“I saw them being ostracised, and not given jobs. They took to crime. My grandfather would tell me that the Sabars were not educated, and so were unable to find jobs. When I persisted with my grandpa what I could do for them, he told me to grow up and start earning and then think of something for the poor Sabar children. I set my goal, then,” recalls Mukherjee.
Mukherjee’s school became a reality in 2011. The initial fund of Rs 2.5 lakh for the school in Puncha village, around 280 km from Kolkata, where he lives, was from his savings. He took a bank loan of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000 from his mother to build five rooms with asbestos roof on a plot donated by a friend of his father. The school started with 15 children. It is an institution now with 126 children, aged between 4 and 15 years.
It took time to convince the Sabars. “I would tell them to send their children to study for the sake of their future. That struck a chord with the community,” he said. Around 20,000 members of the Sabar tribe live in five blocks of Purulia district. The children who go to Mukherjee’s school are provided lodging, food, clothes and education up to Class IV.
After that, schooling continues in the secondary and high schools in the area. “I use Rs 20,000 of my salary for the school. We have farmlands which help me run my family,” says Mukherjee. “Many poor Sabar parents came to me with a request to include their children in my boarding school because they were unable to feed them.
The condition under which the Sabars live is pathetic.” Mukherjee’s effort has led to an adverse reaction on his service career. “My superiors are aware of my school. I faced departmental proceedings on two occasions for going on leave to visit the distressed children. It would have been better had I been transferred to my area. Whenever I come to know that the children need me, I can’t stay in Kolkata,” he says.
Guardian angel for the poor tribal children
Around 20,000 members of the Sabar tribal community are living in five blocks of Purulia district of West Bengal. The children who go to Mukherjee’s school are provided place to stay, food, clothes and education up to Class IV. After Class IV, schooling continues in the secondary and high schools in the area. “I spend my Rs 20,000 salary entirely for the school. We have lands for farming that helps me to run my family,” Mukherjee said.
Ready to pay the price to bring a positive change
It took Mukherjee time to convince the community to send their children to study. Once they had the trust that he did not have any other motive, they agreed to do so. But unfortunately, the traffic constable’s superiors have not appreciated his noble work. On two occasions, he has faced departmental proceeding for taking leave to visit the children. But Mukherjee says he is ready to pay the price if his efforts can bring a section of people into the mainstream.
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