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Labourers by day, stars in secondary

Labourers by day, stars in secondary

Author: Rabi Banerjee
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: July 15, 2008
URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080715/jsp/bengal/story_9551419.jsp

Samrat Duley was in Class V when he disobeyed his father for the first time.

He had been told to quit school. He didn't.

Feeding four with less than Rs 30 a day had become impossible for Sridam Duley. Samrat realised that. So he pulled a rickshaw van for seven hours a day, come hail or heat, but continued with school.

Samrat appeared for Madhyamik this year.

His result read like this: mathematics 89%, physical science 98%, life science 88%, total 81.75%.

The boy from Nadia's Bhajanghat has shown everyone how to beat the odds in life, said his headmaster Krishnapada Dutta.

Dutta's Bhajanghat High School can take pride in the fact that it has more than one Samrat to look up to.

His classmate Mithun Haldar, too, defied his dad to score over 80 per cent in Madhyamik. He got 92 per cent in math, 85 per cent in physical science and 91 per cent in life science.

The school bent rules re- alising early the potential of its two jewels. Neither Samrat nor Mithun could attend classes regularly, but an exception was made for them.

"It was because of my teachers that I got a chance to study. They allowed me to stay away from school three to four days a week so that I could help my family… they helped me in every way," said Samrat.

The teachers paid their fees and bought them books and stationery.

The unlettered Sridam, who had pressured his son to ply the rickshaw van, is unaware of what child labour is, leave alone the ban on it. "Feeding the family (which includes wife Nayantara and a younger son) is most important. If I don't send Samrat to work, how will we manage?" he asked.

"I had told him that I wouldn't be able to pay for his studies any more," he said.

Samrat leaves home at 8am. It isn't easy for the boy to pull the weight of six-seven adults. But he pedals on.

It takes six to seven hours to earn Rs 30. He returns home exhausted and sits down with his books.

Headmaster Dutta said: "The boys had come to me crying. I was moved. I wanted them in my school."

Mithun's father Prankrishna, a fisherman, earns about Rs 50 a day. The boy brings home around Rs 40 working on others' fields.

The sickle and the shovel are replaced with a ballpoint pen in the evening, when Mithun sits with sister Susmita.

His income funds the Class VI girl's education and resolve fuels her desire to keep studying, unlike her elder sisters.

Samrat's brother Susanta goes to school, too, thanks to him.

Living a few yards away from each other at Bhajanghat, 120km from Calcutta, they are the top two students of the high school.

Neither Mithun nor Samrat want to be a doctor or an engineer. They want to teach science in school. "I want to be a good science teacher," said Samrat.

Mithun said there was a lack of good science teachers in villages.

The seven-hours-a-day toil will not end for them despite their brilliance. "I wouldn't have been able to marry off my two (elder) daughters without Mithun's help," said Prankrishna, who has studied till Class IV.

The father will look for- ward to his help to get Susmita married as well.

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