Slaughterhouse Diary II: A School Reborn

In her late thirties, Safia Rafeeq is a schoolteacher at Dhanaura Junior High School, Amroha. Safia is gladdened by the closure of an abattoir near the school. She hopes that the current academic session will mark the return of students who had dropped out due to health and hygiene issues caused by the unbearable stench.

The job of a government schoolteacher is considered a godsend by most women in Uttar Pradesh, but when I was posted at Dhanaura Junior High School in 2013, I would ask God what sin had I committed to get here. When I joined this school, it was impossible to stay inside the premises without a wet cloth wrapped over your nostrils because of the unmindful disposal of the carcasses and lack of attention to by the slaughterhouse. The situation was even worse for the young (a junior high school in Uttar Pradesh enrolls students up to Class VIII only). They would have recurring respiratory problems and it was not uncommon for the students to complain of giddiness and nausea. Younger students would faint in the school all time; vomiting episodes were common too. We had no other option but to grant students leave generously, even if it meant poor attendance and keeping behind the curriculum. Health came first. While I gradually adopted to the new environs, and continued to discover ways to beat the stench, I also kept trying to get myself transferred from this school. It didn’t take long for the dropout rates to go up. Those parents who could afford, transferred their children to other schools while several others decided to keep them away from Dhanaura. How could I blame them? Even teachers had second thoughts of staying in the job! Few in the municipal administration could be bothered. By early last year, we were left with barely 50-60 students in the entire school; normally, one single class section in a government school has such strength. Things worsened when we noticed that even the groundwater in the area was contaminated. The hand-pump water inside the school became smelly and became reddish. By summer, the school strength dwindled further. Desperate to set things straight, we approached NGOs for help who arranged potable water for students from other areas as well as face-masks to bear the foul air. But that’s all we could do; even the involvment of the gram pradhan (village head) did not make our voice heard where it could have helped. You can imagine the sense of relief when I came to know that the District Magistrate had ordered closure of the slaughterhouse. I silently said my Namaz-e-Shukrana (prayers of thanks). It has been a year now, and the stench is gone. Things are still not completely normal as the groundwater is still a concern. But the student strength has shown improvement. The new session is in process and students are lining up for admission. The building has been whitewashed; there’s optimism in the air. I cannot thank the Yogi government enough for acting this fast. As if by divine intervention, a doctor who runs a small clinic next to our school has assured parents of free medical aid to students in case of an emergency. The local legislator recently visited our school and assured the children that things will only go better from here onward. Insha Allah!

More From the Slaughterhouse Diary

Part I: ‘Yogi govt butchered my job’

Part III: Blossoms of Hope

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

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