26 November, 2020

A long-gone Dalit patriarch's shade shelters some 4,500 kids

A long-gone Dalit patriarch's shade shelters some 4,500 kids
After winding down dusty roads and asking for directions at six different places in Ottapidaram taluk (Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu), one reaches Sillankulam village. The only landmark here is the school, Muthukkaruppan Adi-Dravidar Higher Secondary School. Even by appearances, it’s more than a school, for the village population (1,100) is far less than the number of students here—4,458 to be exact. The residential institution sprawls over some 40 acres and has students from some 19 districts of the state.

For the record, this is no hill station boarding school offering alternative education to the rich. Admission is free, so is boarding. Children can walk in any time of the year into this school-cum-home. "The parents are mostly labourers. We have children here who don’t even have a home to go to during summer holidays," says headmaster G. Jeyakodi. Class VII student Ravi is a case in point. "My parents work as coolies in Madras," he says. "I visit them once in two years." Incidentally, Chennai is some 800 km away.

"Around 300 students have been staying here...



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