It’s not a new “weapon” that Shahal K wanted to use against the district administration, but it proved to be the most effective one. In three days, the government agreed to fulfill his demands.
Since June, Class 11 student Shahal has demanded better facilities for their school, the Ponmundam Higher Secondary School in Malappuram district. The local people have been protesting long before he joined the school, but to no avail. Students at the school have put up with poor teaching staff strength, lack of toilets, poor laboratories and even shortage of classrooms for years.
Fed up with the apathy, Shahal pondered the best way to make a strong protest. When he told his father of the “weapon” he wanted to use, the older man was confused, but supported his son nevertheless.
“To me, it seemed that fasting is a powerful weapon of protest, which doesn’t hurt others. So when all other efforts went vain I decided to use this weapon,” 17-year-old Shahal told The News Minute.
On Monday morning, Shahal informed the headmaster that he was going on an indefinite hunger strike and sat outside the school along with local people. That night, he slept on newspapers and mats in the front verandah of the school, as did his supporters.
After 24 hours, the Class 11 student began to feel weak, but refused to give up. On Tuesday, someone brought him sheets to sleep on. Students, teachers and locals gathered around him, all in support of his agitation.
Given that he is still a minor, Child Line officials too intervened and monitored the situation. That afternoon, they took him to a hospital.
“We have no teachers. Temporary staff members in the school are not paid by the government. School lacks all the basic necessities, some of our classes are conducted on the first floor of a shop nearby. We have petitioned different authorities many times (but nothing happened). This seemed the only way out,” he said.
Shahal says he asked his friends and classmates to participate in the hunger strike, but they were hesitant as it is not a common method of protest opted by school students, especially in Kerala, which is known for strong student movements that can turn violent.
“My friends had inhibitions. But as far as I am concerned, I think that when we protest nobody should be harmed and nothing should be destroyed. And yet, the protest should be powerful. A hunger strike seemed the best option, going by other examples from in the country,” he said.
Shukoor K, a pharmacist with the state Health Department, said that initially, he had misgivings about his son’s decision but is happy that it had a positive outcome.
“One morning he told me that things would change only if he went on strike. I was confused, but he still went ahead and he did it and I am happy. He is not a very outspoken boy, I don’t know how he decided to do it,” Shukoor said.
Shukoor said that Shahal is good at his studies and interested in social welfare activities.
On Wednesday night, Malappuram District collector T Bhaskaran visited Shahal in the hospital. Offering him a glass of lime juice so that he could call off the hunger strike, the collector promised to sort out all infrastructure problems at the school after the Onam vacations.
Shahal is thankful for the support he received during the three-day strike, which has filled him with a sense of purpose. “This has given me the courage to (do similar things in future). It is a beginning, not the end.”