Saturday, January 29, 2005

Reality Check

I was looking through my agency's archives of creative work when I came accross an anthem for something about an universal education effort or something like that. It was a short video where bright eyed, healthy, happy children poured out of their clean homes and ran across verdant fields, past crystal clear streamsbags on their shoulders, going to school. Our ex-PM made an appearance in it as well, at the end. 60 short second of a glorious vision of India.

Just then I got an email. It was from R about her recent trip to Jharkhand. It was about children and schools but a different sort. From a different world. Not one that was dreamed up in a plush ad agency but thought of by some enterprising, courageous people without the backing of any PM and in the real world where the everything was not shining and in technicolour.

R had gone to some villages in Raniswar block of Dumka district in Jharkhand with some friends who had been invited by an NGO called Santhal Pargana Samabay Vikas Samity to ask for some guidelines and assessment of their work.

Four months ago, a local businessman has set up this NGO that has been running coaching classes for the villages of the block.

There are no schoolrooms. Classes are conducted under a tree or in the open fields or a patch of green. How idyllic it sounds doesn’t it? Children studying in the open, under the clear blue skies. Well yes, except when it rains. The village is inundated and all the dirt roads turn into a sea of mud and slush.

The teachers are volunteers, mostly students who give 2 hours from their daily routine (7 to 9 am), totally free. There are a few government run schools where teachers rarely turn up and yet collect their monthly pay. Ironic isn’t it when real work is being done for free while others are paid to sit idle!

The secretary of the NGO said that there are countless other hamlets like these atop the surrounding hills who are even more distant from development, facilities and outside intervention.

There are no investigative centres or pharmacies and the adivasis have to trudge miles to the nearest doctors who hoard free medicines and sell it to them. The majority no wonder, are resigned to their fate and ofcourse, the will of god. These adivasis understandably, have no clue about their basic rights as citizen of this country. It’s a wonder that a brave few have decided to take things in their hands and find solutions. A small start but a brave one, surely. It heartening to note that there is no political opposition, yet.

I wonder, will any of these kids ever know that there is a campaign afoot somewhere education for everyone...probably not. The film is no doubt gathering dust in some archive in some office, India.

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