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Saturday, November 27, 2010


>( The heart-warming story of an innovative educational effort worth
> lending a helping hand)

--Reports Tushar Bhatt from Bhekhadia triban village in Gujarat

> It perhaps is the irony of our modern development,not only in the
> developing countries,but even in the developed countries throughout
> the length and breadth of the world,some remote pockets of human
> settlement remain deprived of the rudimentary fruits of growth. The
> instruments of normally adequate for most regions are not enough to
> break the stranglehold of backwardness.
> There is no exception, and despite million claims of
> vibrancy,Gujarat too, now turning 50 years of its separate, is not
> free from this syndrome. Remote areas in the State continue to lag
> behind,so far on the hazy horizon that they are hardly noticed from
> the dizzying heights of Gandhinagar. They lack in every aspect of
> infrastrcture—literacy,health care,power,water or road,name any
> catalyst of growth,it is not there in the remote regions. Their
> feeble voice becomes so weak that the ruling deities of democracy in
> the State Capital,so busy loudly congratulating itself on its own
> vibrancy, cannot catch it.
> It is a stark reality that even Gujarat has large pockets of
> penury.There are small settlements,largish villages and bigger remote
> areas of which the babudom guiding political novices does not know of.
> This is not a new phenomenon.It has been known since the days of the
> British Raj that large mountainous tracts of land on the banks of the
> Narmada still lived in another time,ages away from rest of Gujarat.One
> of the numerous names of the Narmada is Rewa and the British called it
> Rewa banks and set up a Rewa Banks Agency.
> It is not just ironical; it tantamount to the down right arrogance to
> put off consideration of seemingly impossible looking situation on the
> back burner for the future generations to handle. In the process,the
> plight of the hapless population in these areas worsen at will.They
> are the children of lesser development Gods.
> It still registers as a shock and surprise to outsiders when they
> learn that as many as a\ lakh acres of land will get irrigation from
> the Narmada.The people of the far-flung Kutch too will have some
> drinking water supply.All this beckons for what the rulers
> euphemistically hail as Swarnim Gujarat. But the neglected children of
> Rewa Kantha will remain deprived of all education.
> Included among these areas of darkness are two tribal talukas, Naswadi
> and Kwant in otherwise industry hub,Vadodara district. It is
> tokenism,but the government itself had certified Kwant as thee most
> backward area economically and the media reported the taluka had been
> named an adopted area for development.But,tokenism still dominate in
> practice. A survey was made to size up educational facilities . A
> scheme launched in the wake of the survey by the Government of India
> had provision for model schools for far-off places. Of six approved
> schools,three each were allotted to the two talukas, Naswadi and
> Kwant.Those in Kwant area were at Mogra,Chaparia and Redi Vasan.Some
> schools were formally inaugrated even.
> But, soon,inexplicably the shifting of the six schools in 2 talukas
> was announced. The two taluka panchayat’s elected representative
> , political and social workers and others,forgetting their internal
> differences and joined hands to fight out the proposal for
> shifting.They went up to the tribal welfare minister to lodge a
> protest. But the complaint fell on deaf ears.The tribal belt lost the
> six schools to Naswasi and Kwant townships and their number came down
> to two schools from the earlier six.
> In short, the hapless villages were back to s square one,having been
> generously sanctioned the schools which then were taken back to the
> taluka town.Urban children benefited at the cost of village
> children.Bureaucratic pen has always been mightier than political
> will.
> Against the backdrop of all this, Shramik Vikas Sansthan, a
> non-government organisation,run under the leadership of Octogenarian
> social worker,Mr.Sanat Mehta, a former MP and a former finance
> minister in Gujarat, set up a centre in the remote Bhekhadia village
> in Kwant taluka,came into being some seven years ago in an endeavour
> to bridge the gap between remote areas and educational facilities.The
> cente,named after Late Mrs Thavliben Rathwa, a tribal worker,was
> locally spearheaded by a tribal leader, Ratan Bhagat.A living
> accommodation to house 40 village children was opened and the children
> were enrolled in the Bhekhadia primary school run by the State
> Government.The Rathwa Samaj,the tribals’agrred to foot the schooling
> and boarding and lodging expenses of the hostelites.The Samaj banked
> on support by member individuals.
> The idea caught on like a wild fire among the tribals and more and
> more guardians were eager to leave their children at the hostel.Indu,
> a tribal young woman, accepted to be their guardian God
> mother.However, the temporary arrangement fell short of
> requirements,especially school rooms. Mr Mehta’s organisation offered
> to bear the cost of two additional school roomswere the Rathwa Samaj
> ready to pick up food bill for a hundred pupils.
> Around this time, manging director of the Gujarat Narmada Valley
> Fertilisers Co(GNFC),Mrs Sudha Achaliya, a senior IAS officer in the
> State,came to Bhekhadia.She got interested in this micro-experiment.
> Not only was a top official a mother’s tender heart throbbed in her.
> She offered that if the Shramik Vikas Sansthan shelled out 25 per cent
> cost for building two halls accommodating a hundred resiential pupils,
> the GNFC would provide the remainder. On June 13,2008, the foundation
> for the halls was laid.The construction was supervised by a young
> tribal worker, Mr Madhu Rathwa.On completion, the halls were
> inaugurated on February 10,2010, by the chairperson of the Khadi and
> Village Industries Commission, Ms Kumudben Joshi.
> One hall with 50 girls and the other with as many boys were opened,but
> soon the accommodation ran short.The number of admission seekers
> touched 150.Said Mr Sanat Mehta:” It was difficult to say No because
> in a radius of as many as 45 km there were no other schools.Of these
> 25 students each had come from only two villages on the Narmada
> banks,Harkhod and Kuda,some 36 km away.From Sanoli,45 km away,six
> pupils had come.
> Currently, 153 students live in the hostels- 46 girls and 107
> boys.Mr.Mehta said the Rathwa clan organisation collected grains as
> donation to provide food.More pupils wish to come,but we just can
> accommodate them. It is a regret that nags me at the age of 86, as
> only a few other things in life did.” His clear voice became heavy
> with sorrow.
> He continued,outlining the dimensions of the problem:” We admit
> children from four talukas.As many as 82 came from Kwant taluka’s 24
> villages.There are 62 coming from villages in Naswadi taluka. Mostly,
> Rathwa tribal clan donated foodgrains,although there are children from
> among Bhil, Dungari Bhil and Nayak clans. Nearly 100 children were in
> 5th,6th , 7th and 8th standards.
> Parents of most children are compelled by poverty and joblessness
> locally to go to distant places in search of manual work. Their low
> wages and perpetual need for extra income result in heavy drop-outs of
> children without completing primary education. Their option is not to
> set foot in a school and go with the parents wherever they go.
> Of the 43 villages in the area,only five km away from a school; the
> rest are between 15 and 43 km away.
> All these logistics mean that two more rooms are need to take the
> number of hostelites from 150 to 200. The programme does not get any
> subsidy or even loan from either the Gujarat or the Union Governments.
> In a sense, tribals themselves bear the economic burden of the
> project. Some well-to-do tribals give personal money,others get
> donations. As he said this the sorrow in his voice lifted and Mr
> Sanat Mehta’s face acquired a glow of pride.
> He said: “ Imagine in the far-flung,remote povery-ridden tribal
> villages , most government schemes had failed despite spending lot of
> money and deplying government machinery. In such a milliue , this
> effort at self-reliance by tribals themselved had borne fruits. As
> many as 150 tribal children will lead a better life.”
> In an open letter to the citizens, Mr Sanat Mehta declared: “ All my life, I have never sought
> anything.But, I feel honoured to put out my hand to seek your mite. I
> am seeking just Rs.10 lakhs from all of you. Please give whatever you
> can,so that at least 200 souls can enlighten their being,so that they
> may have a better chance in tomorrow’s world. I ask you NOT to send
> more than Rs.10,000 per donor so that others too can join us in this
> noble endeavour. I have no doubt you all will respond. At 86 years of
> my life already covered I know I do not have time or energy. Before it
> is sunset for me,I wish to see a smile on happiness on the most
> deprived face of our tomorrow.”
> Education is not the sole programme at Bhekhadia.Tribal women here
> sale masalas worth Rs.20,000 per month.Another 100 women work on
> eight-spindke ambar charkha perfected at Udyog Bharati in
> Gondal,earning more than those who workon a government scheme for 100
> days a year guarantees.Tribal young men are undergoing
> diamond-polishing.
> The Bhekhadia project has been named Aaj ,an abbreviationof Adivasi
> Jan Utthan Samaj. Aaj is a significant name. It serves notice on all
> of us that tribal youth is no longer ready to wait indefinitely for
> the civil society and its government to act.Whatever is needed should
> be doe AAJ (Today), now.The tribals pack their masalas as Aaj masala
> and are prearing to launch a soap, Aaj sabun.