Visually impaired students from across Uttar Pradesh, and other states, studying at Sri Hanuman Prasad Poddar Andh Vidyalaya in Varanasi, protest as their school has declared it will close down classes nine to twelve, citing financial troubles.
The students claim the school management wants to use the school for some other business venture.
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Students of a school for the visually impaired at Varanasi, Sri Hanuman Prasad Poddar Andh Vidyalaya, have been staging protests all the way from Ganga ghat to the Banaras Hindu University. The visually challenged students are agitating because the residential school that provided them free boarding and lodging as well, has declared that it will close down classes nine to twelve.
“For two years now, the school administration has been trying to close down the institution stating financial reasons,” Vikas, a 22-year-old class ten student from Sripur in Mirzapur district, who studies at the Vidyalaya, told Gaon Connection.
Last year, on June 17, at an executive meeting of the school administration, a decision was taken to stop admissions to classes nine to twelve. The reason given for this was financial crunch. Since then, the students of the school have been protesting.
They have claimed that the school gets government funds to run, yet is citing paucity of funds as an excuse to close down. The students claim the school management wants to use the school for some other business venture.
But, defending the move of the school to close down, its headmaster, M Divedi told Gaon Connection, “We received just half the grant from the government in 2018-19. Since then, we have not got anything. The institution is going through a severe financial crisis.”
Sri Hanuman Prasad Poddar Andh Vidyalaya was set up in 1972 in memory of Hanuman Prasad Poddar, a freedom fighter, philanthropist and writer. He was also trustee of Gita Press, the world’s largest publisher of Hindu religious texts.
The school for the blind was initially only till the fifth class. It became a junior high school in 1984 and a highschool in 1990. In 1993 it became an intermediate school.
The Hanuman Prasad Poddar Memorial Trust that runs the school is made up of 18 trustees. Its chairperson is a well known businessman of VaranasiBanaras, Krishna Kumar Jalan. All the trustees barring one, who is the principal of the school, are business people.
Allegations are flying thick and fast as classes 9 to 12 have been closed.
“The school gets enough and more funding from the government regularly. But the trustees want to close down the school and use the premises for commercial purposes,” Sashi Bhushan Pandey, a 25-year-old former student of the institution, from Rajpur Saraiya, Sant Kabir Nagar district, told Gaon Connection.
“Our lives are dark now. The administration used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to close down,” Ganesh Yadav, a 21-year-old student of tenth from the Vidyalaya, from Mahita village in Gorakhpur, told Gaon Connection.
“ I passed my eighth class exams but I have no idea where I will study my ninth,” Ramkumar of Ramauli village in Begusarai district, Bihar, told Gaon Connection. “While Uttar Pradesh has four government schools for the blind, Bihar and Jharkhand have none,” the 17-year-old Ramkumar added.
Ramkumar said the school was toying with their futures. “We want to study and be able to stand on our own feet, and our opportunity for education is being snatched from us,” he complained.
The school’s headmaster Divedi said he was hurt at the allegations of financial irregularities the students were making on the administration. “We gave so much love to these students and they are agitating against the school now. Their allegations are baseless and wrong,” he said.
“We served the children as long as we could. Ours is a private trust and we get to make the decisions,” Shyam Sundar Prasad, chief secretary of the Hanuman Prasad Poddar Memorial Trust, told Gaon Connection. He also dismissed the students’ allegations of misappropriation of funds and converting the school into a commercial enterprise, as baseless.
“We will agitate till the time our demands are met,” Shashi Bhushan, one of the leaders of the protest, told Gaon Connection. He said that their protest was peaceful and Gandhian.
“All we want is to be allowed to continue our education. It is the only way we can secure our future. But if our futures are being jeopardised and with it the future of our future generations, we will continue to fight,” Bhushan declared.
Read the story in Hindi.