A pitiable tale

Nestled on the fringe of southern Assam’s Hailakandi district, lies the Residential Special Training Centre (RSTC) for girls. Housed in a virtually abandoned Assam-type structure of an erstwhile Basic Training Centre, the RSTC is in a sorry state of affairs. Seeing the deplorable condition of the centre will move anyone to tears.

Most of  the girls, aged between 11 to  14,  who  have  never  enrolled  in schools  or  are  drop-outs,  come  from the  economically  poor  and marginalised  segments of  the  society. Most of them come from the far-flung,  inaccessible areas of South Hailakandi, infested with militants and belonging  to the backward Reang community, who live  along  the Assam-Mizoram  inter State border.

Run by the Axom Sarba Siksha Abhijan (SSA), the centre is plagued by a plethora of problems. The dormitory rooms, three in number, where the girls are put up on two-tier beds, are all cramped for space.

During  the  rainy  season,  the  girls have  to  be  shifted  to  the  dining  hall as water seeps  in  through  the  leaked roofs. A portion of the false ceiling in one of the dingy dormitory rooms is about to cave in, posing grave risk to the lives of the students. Says Manoj Sarma, District Project Officer, and SSA. There is a lot of infrastructure problems right from the decrepit buildings to the approach road. Funds are not allocated for the repair or renovation of the centre, as it is housed in a government building.

Against the faculty strength of six Education Volunteers  (EVs),  the centre is being manned by three EVs for the past couple of years. There is a chowki-dar-cum-mali, a cook, and a helper. The post of the storekeeper is lying vacant.

Paid peanuts, for Rs. 6,500  per month on a purely contractual basis, the EVs have to make both ends meet to sustain their own families and to look after the basic needs of the girl students. Says Nabanita Dutta Purkayastha, who has been working at the centre as EV since August 2010. The centre is passing through a difficult phase and the condition is fast deteriorating with each passing day.

Echoing Nabanita’s views, her senior colleague Lila Begum Laskar, who has been working here since its inception, says “We have to make arrangements to take the girls afflicted with diseases and cuts and bruises to the doctors. Clinic or health centre for treatment. We are being provided with a meagre Rs. 500-600 per month for medical expenses. How can we manage with the paltry sum, as providing treatment to a single student with medicine and diagnostic tests exceeds an entire month’s expenses put together?”

During such times, following the advent of monsoons, contagious diseases break out.  Presently, five students have been sent home as they are afflicted with pox. Asks Nabanita, “What can we do other than call the parents to take their daughters home as we cannot take the risks of keeping them, fearing the spread of the contagious diseases to other students, as  there  is  no  separate  room  for  accommodating the sick girls”.

Though there take a mandatory rule to provide periodic health check-up at the RSTCs, there have been no such visits by the doctors from the National Health Mission,  government-run health institution or the  Indian Red Cross Society in the past two years.

Set up on August  30,  2008,  the RSTC is also plagued with a serious problem of lack of proper toilets. The existing toilets are in shambles. However, spurred by constant prodding, three new toilets have been built by the  Public Health  Engineering, Hailakandi division,  under  their  sanitation programme and are now ready to be open for use.

There is an acute shortage of drinking water at the center. During the rainy season,  the students have to carry water in buckets from the roadside, as the water tankers cannot enter because the approach road with potholes gets submerged in mud and slush.

The kerosene-run generator has also not been functioning for around five years for want of repairing. During power cuts, the sprawling compound. With many abandoned buildings, remains in pitch darkness, endangering the safety of the girl students.

The classes are held in batches from 9.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. for students of Classes- I to V in a hall-type room, with a small common room for the teachers adjacent to it. The 100-odd students squat on the floor, as there are no benches and tables visible. An 11-month condensed course is conducted here with subjects like English, Bengali, Environmental Science, Maths and other specially designed learning materials.

Nine batches of students have come out of the center since its inception. Lila says the students are not only sharp and intelligent, but also good at extra-curricular activities. Art and music classes are held every Saturday to hone the skills of the students.

Says Nabanita, “Some of the alumni have come out successfully in matriculation exams and are now pursuing higher studies. The number would have swelled had the parents had the means to enable their wards to continue further studies”.

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