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6-km swim to reach school

6-km swim to reach school
Highlights

Along with a hundred of her classmates, Geeta is waiting on the banks of the river that separates villages like hers in Central Gujarat from the only senior school in this tribal district.

Hundreds of school students have to swim through a river to go to school in this tribal district in GujaratAt 7 am, Geeta Baria, age 16, is ready for school. She is neatly dressed in a white-coloured salwar kameez, her long hair is braided. Now, for her daily swim.

Along with a hundred of her classmates, Geeta is waiting on the banks of the river that separates villages like hers in Central Gujarat from the only senior school in this tribal district.

The water is cold, the journey that awaits is six kilometres. But it is a shortcut. By road, the school is a daunting 20 kilometres away.

Along with the children, a retinue of brass pots, referred to as "gohri" will plunge into the water. The boys stuff their books into the pots; the girls use them to stay afloat.

Everyday, a parent is designated to lead the watery contingent to the other side.

"We push our uniforms into the pot and once we reach the other side, we take them out and put them on and then walk to school," says Siddharth Baria, who is in Class 10.

"In our case, there is no place to change so we reach the other side and stay in drenched clothes. We often fall sick. I had a severe cold till last week, but since exams are approaching, I have to attend school today and swim through the cold water again," said Geeta, who is one of 30 girls that cross the river everyday.

The villagers in the area say government officials have heard them out, but done little else. "In 2009, I had presented our case even to then CM Narendra Modi, but nothing has happened. We have knocked at every door but nobody seems to be moved by our plight," said village elder Narpatsinh Chauhan.

District officials say a plan that includes a new bridge, which will allow the children to walk or take a bicycle or two-wheeler or even a mini-bus to school, is being planned and should be commissioned soon. Officials say that the construction work will begin shortly with the state government expected to release a grant of Rs. 13 crores for it.

Geeta and her friends gingerly immerse themselves in the river with a confluence of shouts of laughter and gasps of cold breath. Their DIY school ride has begun.

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