Odisha Teacher’s Daring Daily Walk Across Swollen River Brightens Hope for Bridge Promised 5 Years Ago
After photographs of Binodini Samal wading through water went viral on social media earlier this week, BJD MLA Simarani Nayak said a contractor will soon start work on the bridge that was sanctioned in March last year.
Binodini Samal wades through neck-deep water to reach the school on the other side of the river Sapua in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district.
Bhubaneswar: When the monsoon rains expand the Sapua river and its water flows with a torrential force for four months every year, Binodini Samal crosses it to reach her school on the other bank, just like she does in the dry season.
For the 49-year-old teacher of a primary school at Rathiapal village in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district, it hardly matters that she has to wade through neck-deep water, holding her bag high above her head and often escorted by two or three male villagers.
This has been Samal’s daily routine during the monsoon for the past 11 years — from June 2008 when she started teaching at this government-run school. Even when the river’s overflowing water looks menacing and villagers ask her to skip school, she brushes aside their advice in order to teach the 53 students in the three primary classes there.
The absence of a bridge across the river forces Samal and many of her students to undergo this risky journey to school every day during the monsoon. The villagers have been demanding the construction of a 500 m bridge across the river for over two decades, but the state government has paid no attention so far.
“Last year, I narrowly escaped being swept away. But how can I miss school?” asked Samal, known in the area as ‘Bini Didi’. Many of the young students also have to cross the river sitting on the shoulders of their parents or other adult family members.
Samal, who is unmarried and lives with her brother and sister-in-law, has never skipped school even for a day in the past 11 years. Her dedication to her job, especially the undeterred walk through water, has made her a popular figure in several villages in the area.
The absence of a bridge across the river forces Samal and many of her students to undergo this risky journey to school every day during the monsoon. The villagers have been demanding the construction of a 500 m bridge across the river for over two decades, but the state government paid no attention so far.
But when photographs of Samal wading through the water went viral on social media earlier this week, things appeared to change for the better. Not only did the authorities recognise her dedication to work, the villagers' hopes for a bridge promised in 2014 also brightened.
“I feel sorry for this situation. I salute the teacher for her dedication,” said local MLA Simarani Nayak. “When I was elected in 2014, the people had apprised me of the need for a bridge there. It will be constructed soon, and there won't be such a problem during the monsoon next year.”
Nayak, who represents Hindol Assembly constituency, said Rs 2 crore was sanctioned for building the bridge in March last year. “But work could not begin last year as the rainy season arrived and then the polls approached. I have been trying for the past three years to get the bridge built,” said the BJD lawmaker.
“Soil testing has been conducted and the required sanctions have also been made for the bridge that will be built under the Biju Setu Yojana. A contractor will soon start work on it,” he added.
In a tweet, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Samal's “work ethics and dutifulness are a rare example for all teachers”.
Praising the teacher, educationist Kamal Prasad Mohapatra said the government’s “lack of initiative and willpower” had forced her and her students to risk their lives to reach school.
“It is hard to believe that such pathetic conditions prevail in our country when the second decade of the 21st century is nearing its end and we have made tremendous progress in so many fields. This does not indicate a healthy educational atmosphere. One does not understand why neither a bridge was built nor a boat provided by the administration,” said Mohapatra, who retired as a director of education in the state government.
He urged the state government to recommend Samal’s name for an award from the President. “She is certainly an ideal teacher and she is an example for all teachers in Odisha,” he added.
Dhenkanal district education officer (DEO) Suddhananda Parida said Samal will soon be felicitated at a government function.
Despite working as a teacher for the past 11 years, Samal is yet to be as designated as a regular teacher. She draws a monthly salary of Rs 7,000. When promoted to a regular teacher’s position, which should have happened after eight years of service, she would be entitled to Rs 27,000 a month.
(With inputs from Ashis Ranjan Satapathy)
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