Fear of crash empties school

Alipurduar, Feb. 3: The sight of a burning plane crashing nearby has so terrified the students of the primary school in Bhatpara Tea Estate that they are refusing to attend classes.

On thursday afternoon, a MiG-27 crashed in a betel nut grove located within 50m of the school.

Most of the 312 students witnessed the crash, while one of them, Niki Thapa, escaped death by a hair’s breadth. The six-year-old had been picking flowers at the grove and though the plane missed her, she had to be admitted to hospital in a state of shock.

On Friday and Saturday, not a single student turned up at the school. Worried, the teachers contacted local gram panchayat member Jaglal Rout and together they visited the houses of nearly 50 students today.

“All the children said they were too scared to go to school, especially since fighter planes fly over our tea garden every day,” said Rout. “So I sat with the teachers and we have decided to conduct a door-to-door campaign to convince the students to come to school.”

Rout has a tough task at hand. Sunita Roy’s son Abinash is in Class IV and saw the crash. “From the day of the incident, my son is in shock. At night, he is woken up by nightmares. He has clearly told me that he would not go to school, fearing another plane crash,” said Sunita. She added that the final exams were knocking at the door.

The panchayat member said the crash had also damaged the school building. “There is a huge crack on the wall of a classroom.”

Niki is showing signs of improvement, but Friskila Toppo, who was in her house less than 20m from the crash site, still cannot hear anything.