Wednesday, February 22, 2006  04:08 IST

V Narayan/Manoj Singh

Two tenth-standard girls of Dharavi Kamarajar Memorial English High School drank insecticide on February 13 after the school management allegedly made it mandatory for every student to sell lottery tickets worth Rs10,000. The school caters to a largely lower middle class audience from the local slums, which is why the issue has upset students, teachers and parents alike.
The management of this unaided private school had allegedly announced at a parent-teacher meeting two months ago that every student would have to garner the amount towards the construction of a new school building on 90-feet Road, Dharavi. The seven-storeyed building with 40 classrooms would cost Rs3 crore, according to John S Chellaburai, vice-chairman of the school.
“It is true that we had made it compulsory for the students to sell the tickets. But if a student is unable to sell them, we will not take any action. The school never took donations. So we thought students can help in raising funds. The money collected will not be used for our purpose, but for the development of the educational system here in Dharavi,” he said.
He added the school had been paying rent to the BMC for the last two-and-a-half years. After banks rejected a loan plea for Rs1 crore, this was the only way left to raise funds to finish the construction work, he said. He added a faction of the school trustees was trying to create a controversy to discredit the management.
School principal K Pandey said, “It is our responsibility to raise funds for the school development. Even the teachers and the management are trying their best to sell the lottery tickets.”
He said the lottery issue was not why the girls consumed poison. They were weak in studies and had failed the prelims, and feared that their parents would be called, he reasoned.
Dhanaji Jagdale, police sub-inspector at Shahu Nagar police station, said families of both the girls did not file a complaint. Both the girls consumed Tik 20 on the school premises. “We came to know about the incident after they were admitted to Sion Hospital,” he said.
However, the father of a victim said, “We do not want to make an issue as it may spoil my daughter’s career, with hardly a month left for the board exams. I have two daughters and the school management has given two lottery booklets. School management has not contacted us at all after the suicide. The family is in trauma and we have decided not to sell the tickets.”
He added, “I have decided that when the school management asks for the collection amount, I will pay Rs500 for each booklet to get this off my shoulders.” The other girl’s family was not willing to talk.
A bunch of students at the school told DNA that pressure to sell the lottery tickets had indeed triggered the suicide attempts.
DNA is also in possession of a signed letter that the parents’ association sent to the chief minister and the state education minister on the issue. It alleged, “The teachers are harassing (students) too much, as they are (being) harassed by the existing committee.”
Yadav Pujari, a member of the parents’ association, said, “Two students have already attempted suicide. More students may follow their footsteps.”
The teachers were tight-lipped about the issue. However, a primary school teacher said the pressure selling tickets worth Rs1 lakh each is weighing down on every teacher.
“The task seems insurmountable, especially because the management has issued a March 15 deadline to complete collection work,” she said.