Conference, Tour

Education and Socio-Economic Inequality at Asha-24

For two days in Gainesville, Ravi, Khiyali and I had the opportunity to attend the Asha conference and absorb a sense of the prevailing concerns that volunteers felt regarding education.  For example, Anurag Behar, one of their speakers Saturday morning stated that “education is fundamentally a socio-political issue.”  What then would be the indicators of a good education?  Could we apply these indicators not only to individual students but to the social and political climate in which they pursued education?  Could we look also at the socio-political climate of the classroom itself – who questions, who answers, who listens, and who learns? Continue reading

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Exhortation

Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture

Never have I so acutely felt the weight of Jonathan Swift’s remark, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” as now, after responding to a “viral” article propagating pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in connection with menstrual untouchability, which is a crime against women just as untouchability is a crime against humanity. To top it off, this article suggests, in conclusion, that reviving traditional customs may effect social change and greater respect for women. The author is not some cranky old chauvinist male but a woman who works with government schools and health departments to teach girls and women about menstruation.  Girls certainly do need spaces where they can speak freely and ask questions about menstruation, to know it is not shameful and that their bodies are just fine.  How awesome would it be if after a presentation on the subject they could go home and declare, “I am not polluting, I don’t have to sit in the corner or in the shed. I can go where I want, when I want. I am free! Instead we hear that when girls ask questions about why they are not allowed to touch people, pickers, temples, etc, this particular teacher tells them that untouchability is “a personal choice” and that the myths and rituals reinforcing it are rooted in “ancient wisdom” when women were “worshipped.” How many adolescent girls, hearing a teacher in school offer you on the one hand patriarchy masked as “ancient wisdom” and on the other “personal choice” will choose the latter? I hope this response can increase that number:

Ask Amma

Several people have forwarded to me an article, written by an educator, connecting “ancient wisdom” to the practice of menstrual taboo, and pitying the misguided women who expect modern ideas of gender and feminism to empower them.  After cataloguing popular justifications for menstrual untouchability and suggesting that they come from a time when women enjoyed respect, indeed worship, in contrast to the present context of crimes against women, the author concludes that menstrual taboo is a matter of “personal choice.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Would those who condone menstrual untouchability extend their reasoning to untouchability?  Is it also a personal choice for us to connect to the “ancient wisdom” through the practice of untouchability?  With more than enough relatives who would be all too happy to think so, I take this as a wake-up call

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Exhortation

Save Open Schooling

The National Institute for Open Schooling serves millions of children every year, and its programs, including the Open Basic Education program should be recognized and supported under the Right to Education Act.  Instead, some important programs of NIOS are facing cuts.

There are a variety of reasons that children may not attend or may not thrive in a legally recognized, Board-affiliated school and for these children, Open Schooling offers a meaningful path of education and vocational training and certification. In the case where the reasons stem from poverty or injustice, we should certainly address these causes and clear the obstacles for school admission and achievement. Nonetheless the option of open schooling should remain available.  To close the option of open schooling while there are still people who want and need it and are making good use of it, is a disservice to those people, who for the most part are among the poorest and marginalized sections of society.  There are also people who opt for open schooling by choice.  And why not – the freedom and flexibility and respect for the learner that NIOS builds into its learning programs are difficult for any school to match. See for example, this description of the NIOS Open Basic Education program for children aged 6-14:

Like all Academic and Vocational Programmes, the foundation of the OBE programme is based upon openness and flexibility. The registration period is valid for five years thereby not only giving freedom to the learners to choose their subjects but also to study at their own pace. It also provides freedom to select the medium of their choice. A learner has a choice of Hindi, English or any Regional Language as medium of study. Like all academic programmes, OBE programme has no upper age limit for any learner, though children below the age of 6 years are not registered in the programme.

Although the RTE Act states that schools cannot deny admission, and aims to enroll every child in school, there are many who are unable to go, who go and find conditions intolerable, or who are, in violation of the law, denied admission. There are also children attending schools that are not legally recognized as schools. There are trusts, co-operatives and other organizations running schools under a variety of circumstances and conditions that are not recognized within the purview of the RTE Act – for example, they may be teaching in a local language, with staff that does not have B.Ed degrees, or teaching in a refugee camp or in a region zoned for displacement and therefore not allotted any schools or other government services.   They may be teaching children with different learning styles or abilities in a way that is customized to the special needs and abilities of each learner.

After attending such a school a child may appear for the Secondary exam through NIOS, and possibly continue in a mainstream college or other course afterwards.  NIOS also offers the Senior Secondary exam.    The service is available to all out-of-school learners regardless of reason for not enrolling in school. In 2011- 2012, 2.5 lakh students passed the Secondary (10th standard) and Senior Secondary (12th Standard) NIOS exams.

At the National Institute of Open Schooling’s 25th Anniversary celebrations at Chennai, a student spoke about the importance of NIOS and the need to make more people aware of the educational options it offers: There are so many people like us who do not thrive in the conventional system, but do not know that they have another option. And it is for this reason that each of us must become personal ambassadors of NIOS. Whenever I explain the concept of NIOS to anybody, more often than not, they say, ”Wow, I didn’t even know that such a great framework exists!”

– Aditi Parekh, “The Power of Open Schooling

If you read the 2010-2011 Annual Report of the NIOS, you will see an institute that is functioning well, whose leadership takes seriously its mission to reach those in need, and works wholeheartedly to extend and improve its services, in the public interest and without profit. The inspiring letter from the chairman, S.S. Jena concludes, “The ever-increasing student enrollment and collaboration with premier institutions indicate the confidence of the society and Government in the multifarious activities of the NIOS.” In a climate of growing privatization and commercialisation of education and weakening government support for public education it is very important to support an institution whose stated goals are “universalisation of education, greater equity and justice in society, and the evolution of a learning society1.”

Therefore it is alarming to read, later in the same NIOS Report, that although the institute is doing so well and serving so many across the country, it is being curtailed or discontinued in the name of Right to Education. I quote: “However, in the light of the RTE Act, NIOS will have to discontinue catering to children [up to] 14 years of age after 20132.” In July 2012 the government extended this deadline to March 2015. but the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017) does not mention the Open Basic Education program and focuses on NIOS services for secondary education and vocational training3.  The main program serving children up to age 14 is the Open Basic Education (OBE). With the future beyond 2015 looking bleak, many of the OBE study centers have already begun to close, leaving millions of children with no other route towards mainstream education.

This is the wrong direction to take.  The Open Basic Education program should be strengthened and supported with individual and online registration facilities.  In fact, schools can learn from the OBE model, including allowing children to learn at their own pace with no upper age limit.   

What will happen to the millions of children who depend on the NIOS?

At a meeting held in November 2013 at Gujarat Vidyapith, a number of educators from various institutes including Nai Talim Samiti, Azim Premji Univ, Vigyan Ashram and Multiversity’s Taleemnet, endorsed a letter to the Prime Minister calling for strengthening of State Boards of Secondary Education as well as the NIOS. Nyla Coelho of Taleemnet made a similar appeal during the Right to Education session at the India Homeschoolers’ Conference held in March 2014.

Homeschooled children in India who need a certificate for admission into any stream of their choice after the tenth standard, have been able to meet this need through the NIOS. While there are private services and international boards, these are expensive and have no commitment to the public, as NIOS does. Homeschoolers who have taken the exams through NIOS have also identified needs for improving the way the examination is administered. For example, recently a child in Maharashtra taking the 10th standard exam through the NIOS was shocked to find that when he asked for additional paper to continue his answers, he was not allowed, as the rules state that only one sheet is to be provided per student. The family has filed a case to change this policy. Perhaps other students suffered because of this unfair rule but did not have the means to file a case; if the rule is changed and students are allowed enough answer sheets to complete all the questions, this will benefit all who take the exam. If the reason that students are allowed only one answer sheet has to do with staffing limitations of the NIOS, then we must advocate for the NIOS get the required budget to hire additional staff and see that students are empowered to do their best.

Currently no body has announced or proposed closure of the NIOS, but many parents are worried, after seeing the cuts to the OBE program.   Cuts to NIOS would create problems for millions of students who depend on this institute and cannot afford other means as well as those who opt for the NIOS by choice. Even if the RTE is fully implemented and schools are available, people who are affected by displacement, migration, unemployment, sub-minimal wages, ill-health and other issues may not be able to complete 10th standard through the school system and need the option of appearing for the exam through NIOS. Even if they day dawns when people enjoy land rights, sustainable livelihoods, living wages, health security and accessible schools, the NIOS is part of the educational safety net and serves those within as well as outside of the formal school system.

Therefore in solidarity with all out-of-school learners, including millions of open learners already registered with the NIOS, and with the hardworking staff of the NIOS, all of us who care about education in India and about keeping educational options open for our children must stand together in support of the National Institute for Open Schooling. We need to urge the Ministry of Human Resource Development to recognize the role of the NIOS and all of its programs including the Open Basic Education program in fulfilling the mission of the Right to Education and to support the multiple paths of learning that children in India are following. We must demand that the NIOS remain open and receive greater support to improve the quality and reach of its services.


Notes

1 NIOS, “What is NIOS?”  Source:  http://oer.nios.ac.in/wiki/index.php/About_NIOS  accessed March 2014.

2 From the NIOS 2010-11 Annual Report.  The NIOS website states:  “The MHRD letter vide no. DO 10-4/2009-EE-4 dated 7th April 2010 has permitted NIOS to continue its OBE programme for 6-14 age group for a period of three years wef 1st April, 2010.”  Source:  http://www.nios.ac.in/study-centre(aiaviobe)-corner/obe-programme.aspx accessed March 2014.

3 “The Twelfth Plan will strengthen the infrastructure facilities for NIOS and 16 State Open Schools (SOS) under RMSA in order to improve the outreach of open schooling programmes with special focus on skill development and vocationalisation, particularly in the educationally backward districts of the country.”

Source: http://planningcommission.gov.in/plans/planrel/12thplan/pdf/12fyp_vol3.pdf accessed March 2014.

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Comment

Campus Notes

Campus Notes

21st May 2006

When Simpreet Singh silently held a banner raising the question “Development or Destruction?” before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who addressed the convocation of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the activist community debated the wisdom of his gesture. Was it an embarassment to an institution that has steadfastly supported people’s causes, and in fact from which several staunch activists, including Simpreet Singh have graduated? Did it help or hurt the cause he aimed to support?

The debate, while very interesting, was cut off by the crushing judgements the next day and after – the Supreme Court postponed hearing theNarmada people while allowing dam construction to continue, and explained to the homeless in Delhi that the Right to Housing did not necessarily apply to them. Consider it an early warning to those displaced without rehabilitation.

Reflecting on my own experience teaching college students, I can only wish we had more Simpreets. I can also say with some confidence, that given a choice of embarassments surfacing on campuses today, administrators would vie for an action like holding up a silent message for a just cause at the convocation assembly.

Most contend with the scattered outbursts, that may embarass, which I have come to understand as a “cry for help.” We hear this cry in the muffled students who succumb to mob tactics to raise academic issues; in such practices such as bullying, sexual harassment and regional rivalries; and in some of the uglier elements that come on display during public programmes when students take the center stage.

Small children often experience uncontrollable frustration during ages when they are coming to terms with their own sense of independence. Those who have sought to understand the role tantrums play in the child’s process of growing up advise parents to listen and not only “put out” the tantrum like one would put out a raging fire.

Unseemly as it may be to tell men of 18 or 20 years of age not to hit their classmates or not to masturbate on stage in front of their peers, faculty and townspeople, one must also look into the source of these tendencies to violence and vulgarity. What frustration or insecurity drives this exhibition of machismo? Perhaps it is because at a time when people are expected to be prepared to stand on their own, make their living and take greater family responsibilities, they harbor deep-seated anxieties over these very matters.

What resources do we provide for young people to share their anxieties? I read the tendency of some to condone practices such as ragging, eve-teasing, and other routine harassment to which some students resort, as an abnegation of responsibility to address the real issues bothering our young people today. This is a question for our society as well as our campus community. Fear of failure, introduced from class I or even earlier, has shown its ugly consequences in myriad ways. Acts of rage and desperation including suicide and homicide have captured headlines. At the same time, there are less noticed yet in some ways equally alarming impacts of an educational system that associates discipline with punishment and education with segregation, teaching students to judge one another as harshly as they themselves feel judged.

From judgment follows reward and punishment. Yet there is a disconnect. Students are ready to judge, but lack the capacity to implement any meaningful action (certainly not one that deviates from the norm) based on the judgment. This very frustration fuels the tantrums of very young children. A society that has not developed a caring approach to these should not be surprised to see this frustration resurface in uglier proportions in adolescence and beyond.

While it is tempting to blame popular culture for the cheap thrills associated with sex and violence, one must also answer the question, “why and how has this culture become popular?” Is it in fact “what people demand” or could there be other forces driving certain themes and scenes into our TV programs and films, both fiction as well as those broadcast under the banner of “news” or “opinion.”

Not all are interested or willing to take up media activism, or even to write a simple letter to the editor. Yet how critically do people read and how seriously do they take their own opinions? While the Chief Guest at a recent student’s assembly was offering valuable advice on raising one’s own standards of excellence, a wave of students made noises to suggest that he should truncate his prepared remarks. However, the speaker, perhaps hearing the silence of those who were actually savoring the pearls of wisdom, continued unfazed by the peremptory applause or other actions. One wonders whether the catcalling students even wished to be taken at face value. Did they really reject the idea of a Chief Guest at the annual program, and if so were there not other opportunities to express this opinion? If they had better ideas for involving accomplished community leaders in the institution, probably they could be implemented. Or do they indulge in disrupting the dignity of the occasion because they know that saner voices, including the silent majority, are there to prevail?

But what if the crowd mentality takes over? How to account for mob dynamics which exploit the silence of the majority for their own ends? Do we know how to protect ourselves against that? In all our years of education do we learn to speak truth to power, to say what we believe without worrying about who agrees or disagrees with us, and how much money or might they have? Sadly our schools often teach us to do exactly the opposite.

Regarding the routine humiliations and severe harassment that plagues many college campuses, a student in my Group Discussion class exclaimed, “without being hit a child does not even learn 2+2 = 4!” Such violence, passing through the system to higher grades, has reached a level of complacency. Outraged, many have called for ragging to be banned and perpetrators to be punished. However few have looked into the violence of our education system in itself. How many would share this student’s recollection of being put down, whether by words or by stick, even in elementary stages of learning?

At the root we must ask what it really means to “learn 2+2=4.” Is it simply being able to produce the answer “4″ when asked for 2+2? Today’s children are hardly given a chance to discover concepts such as quantity or accumulation through their own intuition and aptitudes, which have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Instead, so eager are we to impose our so very recently standardized alphanumeric codes on human experience and impression, that very young children are expected to accommodate their expressions to adult languages. Adults reward children who “correctly” do so through external praise, gold stars, grades, and even junk food. This craving for external affirmation may grow addictive and get internalized through the school years, with almost no reciprocal expectation placed upon parents and teachers to understand the world from the way children make sense of it, or deal with the senselessness of it.

When we confront problems such as violence, vulgarity, sexual aggression and exhibitionism we must search for the causes and solutions not only in the extra curricular realm but also in our very approach to education.

Therefore Institutions of higher learning take seriously their obligation to model the kind of leadership that relies neither on the pocket nor the fist but truly engages people’s hearts and minds towards a shared goal. This kind of leadership relies on reciprocity, in that one must recognize the individual aspirations of those one leads, and also inspire in them a yearning for the broader vision, which all create co-operatively.

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Notes

Some thoughts on the Creative Learning Environment

Concept note: Creative Learning Environment planned for Parlekhemundi, Gajapati, Orissa

Nearly everyone with small children observes with astonishment how eagerly they learn. As parents we struggle to offer them freedom in their learning environment constrained only by the need to ensure their own safety. For most children, the result is that they must spend several hours a day in a “school,” which is usually an enclosed, rigidly structured area under adult supervision, with a fairly large number of “students” per adult “teacher.” The teacher is responsible for covering a syllabus and considered to be an adequate judge of pupils’ progress in learning. Often this presents a tremendous workload leaving little time for quality interaction with children.

Given a choice, many parents would like to offer their children a creative learning environment. I would like to describe what such an environment could look like. I have not been responsible for creating or managing such a learning environment in a public setting, but I have tried to apply the basic principles while interacting with children, especially my own. Much of the work consists in not regulating or interfering with children’s natural course of learning, but being there, receptive and responsive, creating spaces for free, sellf-guided exploration. Our guiding philosophy would be that the environment is as close as it can be to not being a school. In India today non-school going children generally fall into two extremes – those who are forced to work from an early age and have little time or space for creative playing or thinking, and those who belong to privileged families who can afford to keep a variety of books and other learning resources at home and have no doubt that the child is learning far more even in a conventional sense, than s/he would in any school. To make this kind of learning environment available to more children, without imitating the format of a school, it would help to have a library resource center where books, puzzles, etc are available, with a functional system to maintain the resources. Resource persons should also be available to respond to questions in a non-judgemental, non-patronising way.

Selection criteria for resource persons:

— should speak, read and write at least ONE: Oriya or Telugu. Saura speakers may also be eligible. A fraction of places may be reserved for people with other valuable skills who do not know Oriya, Telugu, or Saura but do know English or Hindi and meet other criteria.

— should be invovled in interesting and productive projects

— should demonstrate capability for original thinking and respect for children’s thoughts and explorations.

— should have a calm, pleasant personality and be patient, cheerful and encouraging with children.

— should be of diverse socio-economic backgrounds and ages and genders.

— should understand, appreciate, and contribute to nurturing freedom, creativity and social values of the creative learning environment.

In the age 6-10 environment, students will not be separated by grade level. Children below age 6 may come along with at least 1 parent / adult. Children may speak, read or write in any language, and may expect to have resource persons and materials compatible with their learning level, style, and medium.

Resource persons will not monitor attendance nor assign or grade children’s work. Children will however have access to various resources and opportunities to help them take stock of their thoughts and experiences. Resource persons may suggest and help to create settings in which children share these with parents, taking cues from the ways in which they naturally do so among themselves.

A library / resource center will make available a wide range of books, maps, toys, and a-v materials in Oriya, Telugu, Hindi and English. Students will be allowed to use these materials and may seek help from other children or adults in making sense of them.

Structured activities will be limited to 1.5-2 hours per day, for example, from 9:00 – 9:45, 1:00-2:00. These may primaily pertain to a given subject, but will be interdisciplinary in scope. For example, a resource person may involve the children in planting plants and monitoring their progress, measuring, tracking growth on a chart, describing in words, etc. Another activity might be a group drama involving constructing sets, song and dance. Others may be creating a newspaper, making food, spreading cow dung on the floor, etc.

In general children would be able to work alone or in groups, possibly with resource persons who would be involved in such activities as gardening, cooking, drying or other food processing, spinning, sewing, making mud pots, creating storybooks, making maps, observing grasshoppers, etc. There will also be time when the library is open, as well as time for lunch. Other recreational and creative resources such as games / balls / art supplies / musical instruments may also be made available at suitable times.

Students will not be required to wear a uniform, but comfortable khadi clothes will be made available at reasonable cost for those who wish. There will be no tie, belt, socks, etc. Clothes will typically get dirty during the school day.

“Teachable moments” will be driven by the kinds of questions the children pose, and the process of searching for the answer will be participatory and interactive. Resource persons should refrain from interfering with or judging children’s activities, avoid routine praise or blame, and offer help only when asked, except of course where safety is at issue. Without being patronising, they should keep aware of opportunities to involve the children in figuring out solutions. The large chalk-board style walls will naturally attract students and give them room to spread out while taking part in the learning exercise.

The role of the resource persons would be to engage in interesting activities, keeping in mind ways that children can get involved if they wish, to see that activities are available for all ages, and to encourage boys and girls to participate equally, being esp vigilant of situations where traditional stereotypes may prevent this. Where children get into conflicts, resource persons should redirect the energy by proactively offering interesting activities. While they may need to intervene in some cases, they will refrain from punishing or putting children down, but seek respectful ways of helping children move on and get along.

Parents will be partners in the learning environment. The school does not grade or judge children’s progress but resource persons and parents may discuss concerns from time to time. Emphasis will always remain on allowing the child to learn at his or her own pace, following his or her own interests. If there is a parent who wishes to share their special knoweldge of a particular subject, they will be encouraged to do so and interested children would naturally be drawn. Special events may be arranged e.g. setting up a telescope in the evening, etc.

Children’s decisions will be respected and encouraged wherever practical and possible. Where children and resource persons are unable to agree, the conflict will be resolved keeping mutual respect intact. Where possible changes will be made to prevent the conflict from arising again. Resource persons will seek out opportunities to involve children in discussion and conflict resolution. To the extent possible, resource persons will explain all decisions affecting students to them.

The theory and practice of the learning environment will evolve as it goes along and resource persons, parents, and community members would discuss this from time to time. I have prepared this note based on my reading of John Holt, Jean Liedloff, interactions with people who have gone through such learning, online discussions of unschooling / deschooling, and my observations of my daughter’s learning adventures. I myself have a tremendous amount to learn in this regard and am personally looking forward to participating in the creative learning environment.

IN practice, a sample day might go as follows:

Resource persons are engaged in various activities. Children arrive between 8:00 and 9:00 and play, talk to one other, draw on the chalkboards / art walls, join in some of the activities. At 10:00 they all sit together for a session – this could rotate through the week – yoga/exercise, music/dance, cooking/gardening, arts/crafts, life-science. A music class could include songs in different languages and related to different concepts. The session would be 30-45 minutes would accomodate all ages, and may have some practical component.

Again children are free to pursue various activities. At 12:00 they have lunch and the library would be open for 2-3 hours. The children could begin going home around 2:00 but may stay until 3:00, at which time resource persons would also go home.

EXPENSES/FEES
SET UP COSTS: land, built structures, water/electricity facilities, furniture, supplies, vermi pit, composting area, biogas, hand pump, windmill, etc.
INITIAL STOCK for the library: Books, charts, maps, and puzzles suitable for children up to age 10 in Oriya, Telugu and English. Subscriptions to children’s magazines

Resource persons’ remuneration should be a living wage considering local living costs, with some transportation allowance or bus pass as appropriate. Fees should be affordable by the families whose children are eligible to attend, i.e. those working at JITM. All persons working directly or via subcontractor for JITM should be eligible to enroll their children. Depending on space availability it may be possible to allow children from the surrounding community to attend as well, and a fee structure would have to be determined that these communities could afford. If appropriate some of the elders from these communities would be resource persons in the learning environment.

Responsibilities of the resource persons:
• To create an environment free from prejudices of language, class, caste and gender.
• To see that resources and instructions offered are utilised by all the children fairly. This is a challenge since the dominant trends of society may privilege English over other languages, rich over poor, and more fundamentally rigid order and authority over self-directed learning. Therefore resource persons will need to resist these dominant social trends in order to instill values of equality, mutual respect, and the spirit of learning.
• To work on interesting activities in which children can get involved and learn about language and communication, science and nature, problem solving, themselves and the world around them. In some cases this may involve designing projects with children’s learning in mind, but in most cases, these should be normal activities which are simply opened up to children.

Practically speaking it would be good for people who are interested in creating this learning enviroment to have a 2-3 day workshop where we can invite people like Alok who have grown up in such an environment, and have discussions of the basic principles, using some of the work of John Holt, Paulo Friere, as well as organisations like Shikshantar, Mirambika, Jiddu Krishnamurty, etc. We should try to invite people who are likely to join as resource persons to this workshop, and have role playing exercises where we see how these ideas might play out in practice. In a sense every day with the children will be such a practical exercise, and it will also be necessary for the resource persons to have such ‘retreats’ from time to time.

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Jeevan Yatra Notes – II

This note appeared in AID News on September 5, 2001.

Jeevan Yatra Notes [Part II]

{Contined from Part I published on 28th August 2001}

Giridhar Pavra, the guruji of Nimgavhan jeevanshala set forth the
comprehensive issues of the Andolan over the past 16 years and the process
of starting the tribal schools a decade ago. He recounted the struggles the
students and teachers faced together to run the schools He also emphasised
that there is certainly no land for rehabilitation and that the schools
will certainly be submerged and the education of the children will suffer
acutely as a result. Continue reading

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Jeevan Yatra Notes – I

This appeared in AID News on August 28 2001.

Notes of Jeevan Yatra meeting with President

23 August, New Delhi

A delegation of children from the Narmada Valley comprising representatives
from the tribal areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh as well as the
plains of Nimad affected by the SSP as well as a representative of the Mann
project on Mann river a tributary of the Narmada went to the office of the
President. Due to the President’s ill health the President appointed his
Chief Secretary Mr. Sharif to meet the children. Mr. Sharif welcomed the
children in Rashtrapati Bhavan and conveyed to them that the President K.
R. Narayanan was very eager to meet the children but regretted that due to
ill health this was not possible and instructed his secretary to receive
them and hear them.

The children presented a handmade greeting card as well as a hand-painted
tapestry and conveyed their wishes to the President for a speedy recovery
to good health and invited him to visit their villages in the Narmada
Valley. The children presented a bouquet comprising a variety of grains
which are grown in the Narmada Valley.

Doorsingh (9th class) from village Domkhedi where people are facing
submergence in Satyagraha explained all the grains in the basket and
discussed the bountiful resource base on which the adivasi communities
lived. Rajendra ( 5th class) from Savariya added to this that in his
village one did not need to go to the city for anything other than salt and
clothes, and that all required resources were available in the villages.
However now their homes, farms, forest and school would be submerged and
asked whether such a life as they were accustomed to would ever be
available anywhere. He stressed that the government should not force them
to go to the cities.

Honorable Secretary Mr. Sharif told the children that he had served as the
SDM in Thana Jilla, Maharashtra and was able to understand the children
speaking in their own native languages of Pavri and Bhilali as well as
Marathi. He listened keenly to the children’s stories of their experience
in the Andolan as well as their mode of education. He asked each child from
what village s/he came. All were pleased and noted that even the government
officials in Nandurbar and Alirajpur often complain that they cannot
understand the tribal language but here in Delhi in the office of the
President they met someone who could understand them.

Siyaram (9th class) from village Chimalkhedi discussed his childhood
experience in the very first jeevanshala which opened in Chhimlakhedi in 6
August 1992 and was submerged in 1994. The children physically prevented
bulldozers from entering the village by lying down in front of them and
remained on the roof of the school as the water rose on all four sides. The
school was later continued in the neighboring village of Manibeli and those
who completed 4th standard continued their education in Malegaon and
Dhulia. He also stressed that they had never done wage labour nor ever
asked any one to do so.

From Nimad Sapna Kanera (B.A. 1st year) explained that she was born into
the struggle for saving the Narmada as her parents were both deeply
involved and she can still hear the sounds of the police outside her house
when she was only 4 years old. She recounted the atrocities committed upon
the women of her village and appealed to the President o use his authority
under the 5th schedule of the constitution to save the Tribals and Dalits
and pleaded that this authority should not simply remain in the books but
must be utilized for the protection of the people of the country.

[ To be continued ]

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