In Bengal village, a school to reform criminals

And 55-year-old Shabnam Ramaswamy found a novel way to do that - she employed reformed criminals in her English medium school.

Ramaswamy set up the Jagriti Public School in Katna village of Murshidabad district five years ago. Not only is it a rare English medium school in the area but it also offers a great opportunity for education to impoverished village children.

"I was born in Katna. I have always dreamt of having an English medium school in this village to educate the children. I wanted to impart them education in English, so that they do not lag behind their city counterparts," Ramaswamy told IANS.

Katna village of Murshidabad district, which was once known for criminals, poverty and unemployment, is now famous for the school that employs former criminals and an embroidery cooperative society, again run by her, that engages 1,400 women.

"There were many criminals in these areas but they were not born criminals. They took up crime because of poverty. When they got a job in the school, they left crime," said Ramaswamy, a former student of La Martiniere for Girls, Kolkata.

"We have employed gardeners, cooks and drivers who were earlier criminals, but now they are just like you and me," she added.

Ramaswamy runs a cooperative society of Kantha embroidery with more than 1,400 women of the area to raise funds for running the school.

"We run a Kantha embroidery cooperative society with more than 1,400 women of the area. The profit is channelled into the development of the school," Shabnam said. The school provides education free of cost to impoverished children, who make up 30 percent of the over 460 student strength.

Jagriti Public School follows the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum and conducts classes till Class 7. The school, when established in 2005, had classes till Class 2.

"Next year, we will have Class 8 also. Every year, we increase one class. We hope to get CBSE affiliation within next year," Shabnam said.

When asked what eggs her on to continue her mission, she said it was the women of the area who in spite of various economic hurdles still cherish life and carry on the difficult job of bringing up their children.

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