The silence of the Birbhum district administration is intriguing when we reflect on the enormity of the outrage in a part of the state that is given to trumpeting the legacy of Tagore. The core issue goes beyond child labour in the backwaters of West Bengal, a disgrace in itself.
Those supposedly engaged in rural reconstruction ~ in the lights of the poet ~ ought not to forget that the victims, between the ages of four and nine, should have been in school if the orchestrated Right to Education Act is to attain fruition.
That they don’t is testament to the indifference towards the indices of welfare, indeed almost criminal negligence. It is amazing that the district education authorities did not detect or chose to ignore the horror.
The Chief Minister’s efforts on her periodic district tours have been indefatigable but the onus was on the district administration to carry these efforts to a logical conclusion.
The bare details, as reported in this newspaper, are horrific enough. Working as slaves and child labourers, arguably to supplement the family income, the children are not paid even a pittance but are regularly beaten up with sticks in a private residential educational body called the Vivekananda Education Cultural Social Institute, at Supur gram panchayat in Bolpur, a major subdivisional town.
Aside from the physical offensive that is carried out with calculated malevolence, the children are regularly forced to clean cow dung in the cattle sheds, keep an eye on the ducks swimming in the pond and assist construction workers, at so tender an age.
The fact that the visuals went viral on Tuesday is suggestive of the public outrage generally. The purported establishment, that was set up to facilitate the search of learning, has, for the past four years, been home to 180 Scheduled Tribe students from the peripheral areas.
The goings-on at the institute are a faint echo of certain ugly incidents at the girls’ hostel in Santiniketan’s Patha-Bhavan, where a child was once forced to lick her urine by the hostel warden.
More recently, the sex scandal at a shelter-home in Bihar has jolted the state government to its foundations. The authorities of the school for scandal within Bolpur sub-division have grossly violated the child labour laws.
And to keep matters under the hat, outsiders are never allowed to enter the institute which showcases a sinister cocktail of child labour and corporal punishment, in the net a mockery of the certitudes of free and compulsory education ~ a fundamental right and no less.
The fact that the state’s fisheries minister and MLA from Birbhum, Chandra Nath Sinha, is a member of the school’s managing committee has done but little to assuage the suffering.
The video clip shows an elderly person flogging minor children who have been crying in pain and are yet shrilling for justice and punishment of the guilty. Both are scarce commodities ~ from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur to Bengal’s Birbhum.