Way before the governments talked about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Mission Nirmal Bangla, a Christian missionary school in Asansol had set its cleanliness goals. Gandhi Jayanti is the occasion when everyone speaks about the ideals of Mahatma, but little did they know about the school’s connection with the Father of the Nation. Ushagram Girls High School, established before the Independence by the Christian Missionary, is now seeking its place under the sun.
The name, Ushagram, as given by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is steeped in symbolism. The name was given to denote that the sun rises first in the eastern side of the town. The Methodist Epical Church founded the school but the land has been donated by the maharajas of the Kashipore. Mrs Sushila Mallick, secretary of Ushagram Girls’ High School, said that she has written a letter to mayor of Asansol Municipal Corporation, Jitendra Tewari, requesting him to declare the construction as a heritage building.
“It is a matter of great pride to speak about the school authorities who had thought about cleanliness many decades ago and drew the attention of Mahatma Gandhi, a cleanliness crusader, much before the Independence,” she added. Mr Fred. J William took charge of the school in 1922 and the golden era of the instituition started since then. He dreamt of setting up a model school for rural people. His focus was on proper sanitation. Soon first rural toilet with septic tanks was set up. There was no provisions of water supply through pipes and wells have been constructed beside the toilets.
It was the first toilet in the state at that time. After coming to know of this, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Williams on 14 August, 1941, expressing his wish to send two experts to the school to learn the technical know how of the low cost sanitation project as he was very keen to set up toilets at his Sevagram Ashram. Two experts visited the school and toilets have been set up at Sevagram Ashram following the model of Ushagram school according to the wish of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji’s personal secretary visited the school twice.
The school was closed and shifted during World War-II. The letter of Mahatma Gandhi written to Williams had been inscribed in a huge monolith inside the Ushagram School campus. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee have been at the forefront of awareness campaigns for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Mission Nirmal Bangla respectively for the past few years. Both have been trying to eliminate open defecation.