Article

On the shoulders of a humble giant – Part 1

The article below originally appeared in AID News, 14 October 1998

On the shoulders of a humble giant

Some famous scientist (Sir Isaac Newton -ed) once said, that if we
can see this far today it is because we stand on the shoulders of
giants. This is how I felt after spending 15 days with Dr.
B.V.Parameswara Rao, founder of Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT),
engineer, educator, and storyteller extraordinaire.

Our trip began at a low point in civil society: Sept. 12, 1998. The
upcoming public meeting of the World Commission on Dams (at which
both of us were to serve as rapporteurs) was cancelled by the
Government of India. Anna Hazare, the social activist who
transformed the villages of Ralegaon Siddhi through watershed
development and other programs was imprisoned for calling a spade a
spade. And from the U.S a steady stream of data called the Starr
Report overpowered the airwaves not only of the U.S.-owned media but
also the “Indian” media, while Prasar Bharati ensured that
community-produced media and community access to airwaves remain a
distant dream.

On the 30-hour train journey from Mumbai to Vishakhapatnam, however,
our most immediate concern was the cleanliness of the train. It
seemed in the 80s and 90s that train cleanliness had improved, but
now the tide was turning and the dirty water seemed to have
collected in our compartment. Could it be that the People Who Matter
are now travelling first class? In Hyderabad we searched in vain for
the Assistant Station Manager (ASM) to whom a large sign directed us
to address our grievences. Under the sign was a woman who explained,
“yes the sign is here, but the ASM is not here.” Silly me. Even more
silly was my next question … When will s/he return? Back in the
train we got the morning paper with the tour schedule of Chandra
Babu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, out meeting the mucky-
mucks in Redmond, WA and the rest of the U.S.

Redmond, WA is the home of Bill Gates, who is supposed to have said
that South Indians are the brightest people in the world. Among the
brightest is surely Sudhakar Adivokolanu, whose parents welcomed us
in their home in Visakhapatnam. Ravi had developed a fever on the
train, so we were both in a rather sorry state. We called Dr.
Parameswara Rao in his Vizag home to tell him we would not make it
to the morning session of the Rural Education conference taking
place in BCT that day, but would try to make it by afternoon. Half
an hour later he came to Sudhakar’s house to visit us and said, “I
know it may be asking the moon, but perhaps I could suggest that you
come to the meeting and we will place a cot in the hall and you can
rest there instead of resting here.” And so that afternoon, Balaji,
his usual peppy self, came and we all went to the village of
Haripuram where BCT activities are centered. Village hospitality and
natural beauty revived us and we went to the conference hall — a
square space enclosed by a knee-high wall, thatched roof, and sand
floor. People from various organizations around AP and a handful
from places like Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai along with a few BCT
workers joined in something like a structured brainstorming session
on rural education. We began with an overview of rural education
administration, and analysed the flow of resources from rural –
urban and from urban – rural. We discussed intiatives that we could
take and how to coordinate them. We resolved to work through village
education committees to implement our ideas. Dr Parameswar Rao
analysed the Indian Govt’s budget of 1998 and showed how meagre the
allocation for rural development and rural education was, compared
to money spent in urban areas. The major part of the meet was
passing of the resolution to petition the Chief Justice to rectify
allocation of resources for rural education.

[Note: Letter to the Chief Justice is appended below. Dr Parameswar
Rao requested everyone who is interested (even from abroad as it has
its own power) to send same or similar petitition. I urge you to
please do the needful. You can also send a copy of your letter to
BCT]

In the evening of the first day of the meeting, children of the BCT
school in Haripuram gave us a cultural program. All of the compering
and performing was done by the children, of classes 6-10. Two of the
dances were rural forms, one called “kolatam” which is a stick
dance, and the other using hand-made drums made of food cartons tied
around the chest and beaten with the fingers. Most entertaining of
all (to me) was that the children ran up to Ravi after the program
and said,

“Are you Sachin Tendulkar?”


Letter to Chief Justice

Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court
New Delhi

Dear Learned Chief Justice,

It is a pity and a matter of shame that after 50 years of
Independence to our country, we are constrained to bring to your
kind notice the sorry state of education of our children,
particularly in rural areas.

1. First, about the inadequacy of our government’s budgetary
allocations. The Unoin Budget for 1998-1999 provides 3.29% for human
resource management (out of which 2.62% is for education) and 3.7%
for rural areas and employment, which is to be spent on the 76% of
the population living in rural areas. It may be noted that our
government is spending Rs.30 on a resident from urban areas as
against Rs. 1 on a resident of rural area.

2. The reports indicate that 73-80% of school age children enroll in
class I in primary schools and 40% drop out by class V, and 49.56%
by class VII. Only 5% of school age children appear for class X
exam, and 2% pass it.

3. Even when such a small percentage of students pass through
schools, it is reported that 40% of schools do not have pakka
buildings and 39% no blackboards. In general two teachers teach five
classes in a primary school.

4. You may kindly note that all students in Engineering, IIT and
IIM, on whom the Union government spends 12.5% of its education
budget, are from school in urban areas. It is estimated that there
is one rural student in these institutions out of 1 Lakh school
children. You may also note that all of the candidates in IAS and
other central services are from urban schools.

5. Mere existence of schools is highly biased towards urban areas.
65% of primary schools in the country are in urban areas, where only
24% of the country^Rs population lives. It may further be noted that
90-95% budgetary expenditure, either on science laboratories or
games gets spent on urban schools.

All the aforementioned data point to the gross discrimination the
rural population is subjected to, even though our constitution avows
equal opportunity for education and growth for one and all.

We need hardly persuade you that the matter is of utmost grave
concern, since education not only holds the key to development, but
also our investment for the future of our country. Because of the
seriousness of the situation, we would request you earnestly to take
it under public interest litigation as per this request of ours, and
draw the attention of the government of India.

We are of the firm opinion that the solution lies in making parents
and local communities play their responsible and meaningful roles in
taking education and opportunities to the doorsteps of each and
every household and/or individual.

We therefore urge you with all sincerity and seriousness that
primary education and secondary education be immediately handed over
to Panchayat Raj institutions as per the 73rd amendment to the
constitution.

We further urge you to direct the Indian government and all state
governments to take the required measures. Concerned as you are
about protecting our constitutional obligations, we earnestly hope
and pray that you take appropriate immediate action in this regard.

Sincerely,

(Signature, name, address, date)

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