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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Primary school confronts drunk children
By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC News, Bhopal

Alcohol impaired the performance of the school

Nearly 40 children in a primary school in India have been singled out for special praise - they have stopped coming to classes under the influence of alcohol.

The children, aged six to 11, were used to drinking thanks to the free availability of liquor in a pre-dominantly tribal village where consumption of alcohol - mostly prepared from the fruit of the local mahua flower - is routine, even for children.

But then a new headmaster, Sunil Tarkaswar, came to the school in the village of Zitapatti in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

He was alarmed by the poor results and lack of attention from many students and even less impressed by those who were asleep during classes.

'Weaned away'

The students, including many girls, admitted that they came to school drunk.

"Liquor in these areas is prepared at home, mostly for personal consumption though some Zitapatti residents have now started selling it to the truck drivers who cross the highway here," Mr Tarkaswar said.

Poster at Zitapatti school with names of children who have abandoned alcohol
Children who have stopped drinking at the school are publicly named

The headmaster began his campaign to dry out his school by meeting parents, especially mothers and grandmothers. He says he "used every trick from threats to long chats" to wean away his pupils from alcohol.

However, he also needed to draft in the support of the village headman as well as a respected social worker in the area, Chabildas Mehta, who readily agreed to spread the message.

The team kept it simple, telling the parents not to consume liquor in front of their children or give alcohol to children. And they promised the students new uniforms if they stayed off the liquor.

Campaign success

Social events and functions are now regularly organised at the school and good students are given prizes such as books, as long as they refrain from drinking alcohol.

This has encouraged many students to concentrate on studies.

The campaign has worked.

Nisha Johari, a nine-year-old, failed her exams for three years in a row. But now she is making progress and swears she will not drink again.

The drive among the students also appears to have rubbed off on parents, many of whom have given up alcohol and tobacco and are able to save their hard-earned money.

Chabildas Mehta now wants to take the campaign to other villages but concentrate mostly on schools.

"Children thus prepared today would prepare the generation of tomorrow," he says.


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