Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Elusive Right to Education

One of the most important human rights in the modern world currently is the right to education. Social, political and economic systems have presently become so complex, codified and institutionalised that persons without a modicum of formal education are seriously handicapped in realising their life potential. This is especially true for populations that have traditionally remained non-literate and non-numerate like the Bhil Adivasis of Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh. They have now been integrated into the modern system and are consequently greatly disadvantaged by the lack of literacy and numeracy. Not only are they unable to organise their own livelihood activities in accordance with the modern market and governance systems but they also get cheated of their rights and entitlements in the liberal democratic set up of which they are theoretically equal citizens.
The Right to Education (RTE) was enshrined as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution with the insertion of Article 21A in 2002 by the Eightysixth Constitutional Amendment. Subsequently the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed in 2009 which among other things made it mandatory for the State to ensure that all children between the ages of six and fourteen were attending school in suitable buildings well provided with teaching aids, play grounds and separate toilets for boys and girls and adequately staffed by qualified teachers.
The State, however, has singularly failed to carry out its responsibilities. Especially in Adivasi areas where in most cases there are no school buildings, teaching aids and toilets and there are an inadequate number of untrained teachers who are also poorly paid. The farce of State provision of free education reaches its nadir in remote Adivasi areas in Madhya Pradesh where the State provides only one teacher per village for ten months of the year on a temporary "guest" basis, paid only Rupees Three Thousand per month. Not surprisingly there are many villages in Adivasi areas where there are vast numbers of children who are out of school in blatant violation of the RTE Act.
The Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) along with its sister organisation Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has put continuous pressure on the administration in Alirajpur district to improve the provision of education to tribals. However, given the very low overall public outlays for primary education there is a limit to what such pressure can achieve. That is why DGVK has set up its own residential school in Kakrana village. But this one school is not sufficient and so there are many villages still without schools. In the villages of Bada Amba and Chilakda on the banks of the River Narmada the Adivasi people are desperate that their children should go to school. They even tried to contribute some money themselves and from time to time employed some marginally educated youth to teach their children. But these efforts flagged due to inconsistency as after some time the people would find it difficult to pay the salary of the teacher on time due to their poverty.
A new initiative has now begun in these two villages. An eighth class passed young man in Chilakda village, Nahar Singh, has been appointed by DGVK to run a school there. Similarly another eighth class passed young man, Dulji, from Khodamba village has been appointed to run a school in Bada Amba village. There are currently about twenty boys and girls studying in Bada Amba village and forty boys and girls in Chilakda village. Due to the monsoon season two hamlets in Bada Amba village are cut off from the hamlet in which the school is being run due to the intervening streams having waste deep water which is too much for the children to wade across. However, the important thing is that the schools have begun running regularly in these two villages and gradually the number of children will increase. The picture below shows Dulji teaching in Bada Amba village.
The name of the school is Motia Bhil Bhanai Ghar in memory of the last Bhil King of the region who was dethroned by the Rajputs. Bhanai Ghar is the Bhili equivalent of the word school. The teaching is in Bhili as it is an established fact that children learn the fastest in the mother tongue. The primer in Bhili has been developed by the DGVK in its school in Kakrana and the teachers too have been given an initial training there. Once the children become proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic Hindi and English will be introduced. The schools are presently being run in the residences of two of the villagers. They run for three hours from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The picture below shows Nahar Singh teaching in the school at Chilakda.
This is a small beginning no doubt and very inadequate as compared to the quality of education that children in urban areas get but for the people of these two villages it is like getting a piece of heaven in their hands. Due to the remoteness of the area some of the parents had tried to get their children to study in the residential school at Kakrana but even that is very expensive for them. Thus, these schools in their villages open up an important door for their children which they would not have been able to manage on their own either from their own resources or by putting pressure on the State. 
This small but worthy initiative has become possible due to a grant given by an Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur ( IIT KGP) Alumnus, Partha Dutta, who currently resides in Kentucky in the USA. We are both members of a Facebook Forum for IIT KGP alumni and also Facebook Friends and that is how we came in touch and ended up collaborating on this project. This is an example of how the new Internet based social media can lead to social action on the ground for ensuring social justice for those sections of the population who have lost out on human development due to no fault of their own. Earlier too, two IIT KGP alumni, Suresh Nair and Anjan Ghoshal, funded a project of the DGVK to try and get an Adivasi student graduate of the school in Kakrana into an IIT. Even though the student in question could not make it to an IIT he is now studying civil engineering in a private college with grant funding from Suresh Nair.  

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