About the Schools who don’t teach

I was having a casual stroll in a rusty,uncouth village of Bihar after finishing my work. I saw a boy sitting on a buffalo reading some book. I have seen a lot of kids in this part of the world thanks to the nature of my job, but hardly found anyone studying. He was around 11-12 years old. I asked him what he was doing and he smilingly told me he had gone to look after his harvest, and in the meantime he was studying his book. Though I completely envied his relaxed and carefree demeanor, what caught my attention was his book of English letters. Those A for Apple sort of elementary books are taught in Class I, this boy looked way beyond being a class I student, I asked him which class, ‘sixth’ he said. “whose book are you reading?” I asked to which he replied “My own”. So at this age he was just beginning his English studies, that also roaming around in the farmland when he should have been at his school, I asked him why doesn’t he go to school to which he replied “no one teaches at village school, this is for the coaching classes you know”.

Schools in rural Bihar rarely do what they are supposed to do. That is why there are very remote chances to come across a school where teachers and students are actually present and actual process of teaching is being followed. During the course of my work I meet kids studying in these schools and even a class 5 student of a Government Primary School can’t read simple Hindi let alone English. Amidst extreme pressure of performing in areas of Education and Health, our governments have now mastered the art of fooling the parameters of success. So now our children are attending schools, eating mid day meals and a lot of them are even passing High School or Intermediate College examination, but are they really getting any useful education? Is the education system currently being followed in rural Bihar putting them on par or even remotely near to what it is of the students in other parts of the country. The answer to this question is a monumental disappointment, especially when you think of what an average Bihari villager goes through in making his child complete 13-14 years of formal school education. We are not only failing his aspirations and struggle but also putting an enormously uphill task ahead of that child who is driven by intense desire of making his parents proud through achieving success in the competitive world outside Bihar. So anywhere if you happen to meet someone with roots in rural Bihar who has made it big in their careers, reserve some of your most precious respect for them; as their struggles are far far bigger then what meets the eyes. Rastogi_Shobhit (The Endeavour)IMG_1558

For sake of lip service, Bihar has been the traditional epicenteer of knowledg but as per the history that needs no excavation, there hasn’t been a more educationally challenged region in the country. Post Lalu Raj, Bihar tried to make amends but most of the efforts were too little too late. Though former CM Nitish Kumar must be credited for trying his level best in the last decade, you can easily find newly made school buidings on every nook and corner of Bihar. It’s hard to find a village which is not touched by a school nearby and almost all of these schools have been constructed in last 10 years, highlighting the exceptionally barbaric and strategically well planned cruelty of keeping Bihar backward by earlier regimes. But making the school buildings was only the first step, ensuring the presence of teachers and students in those buildings and maintaining quality of education was left to those who were not ready to do it responsibly. A large cadre of teachers was created but like all mass recruitment drives in Bihar, it was marred by illegalities/corruption. No responsible NGO was given the task of ensuring that the children were brought to schools from homes and then they are made to study and not just become consumers of mid day meals/free books/school dresses. The task was best left to the teachers who as per anybody’s guess never performed it. School building have no fans, no lights, furniture is a luxury available in selected ones. Mostly one or two teachers are available in whole school, there is no clear cut pattern of classes, no time table for following any structured syllabus. Now what goes into official records is the result, so at the end of academic year, majority of children are promoted to next standard without any proper system of judging their knowledge. Year after year same cycle is repeated. The teachers posted in these schools are not dumb, they can teach if they want to which is even more evident by the evening tuition classes some of them run in the same school premises or nearby for a sizable amount of fee. The extra money they make through tuitions is what drives them into teaching duties, though most teaching positions are grossly underpaid but so are almost all the contractual positions in government departments and can not be a reason for dereliction of duties.

Village after village whenever you ask a parent why they don’t send their child to school, you get the same reply that nobody teaches them in schools anyways so what’s the point in losing half a man’s wages they can make at work. Food and clothes they will eventually get if at all it is being distributed as they are officially part of the class. I have ran out of arguments convincing the parents about any reasonable justification of sending their children to schools except for availing them an opportunity in future to make amends. It is high time this exceptional gap between the educational standards of village schools is being addressed, a fixed time bound curriculum is devised, teaching duties are properly distributed, a proper monitoring system is put in place to ensure the classes are taking place and above all bringing children to school and making them stay should be left to NGOs who can do it in a far more efficient ways. Similar efforts have been made in the sector of Public Health/Routine Immunization by involving NGOs like Unicef, WHO and Care India to encouraging results, the same model can be followed in the sector of education as well.

The boy who stood still and the girl who din’t die

During the course of my work, I meet a lot of kids. Most of them are sweet, subtle, supportive and I also instantly connect with them. Some are very naughty and some are so touchy that they make your ears bleed with their cries. Sometimes I along with family members have ran around a whole neighborhood with a camera in my hand for photographing a child (required for official purpose) who thinks a photo op means a day in Jail or a certain pain of an injection, both incidentally are the worst fears of any kid worldwide. An interaction with a kid is both, interesting and soothing.  They make you feel great because you have so much to offer them and at the same time they don’t hurt you with their words, because actually they don’t know how to. During these very brief meetings with so many kids, I come across some faces, some stories which refuse to fade, which can not be forgotten. They remain alive in my mind. The roads, the neighborhood bears their marks, whenever I pass through those streets again, I relive the moments when I met them and known them. There is something about those kids, it stays with you. Would be sharing my experience about two of such kids, whose stories were appalling, moving me to tears and inculcated in me, a steely resolve to keep on treading the path I’m treading.

First the girl, because in the real timeline, I met her long ago before I met the boy. The girl was 5 year old, very shy and silent. She could cry on a mere sight of a stranger. At this age kids are very receptive to the world, such repulsion to everything was suggestive of  something very deep. I got to visit her as we were told she was sick. The village is situated in one of the poorest parts of Bihar, her home was no better. I saw 2-3 boys playing to their heart’s content, one even brought a hen from somewhere, tied it in a rope and tied the rope in the courtyard. The continuous noise of the hen is still fresh in my mind, as it interrupted my conversation with the family. It was a matriarchal family, no man in the family at the time. The father of the girl had gone to some big city for making money, the two boys were the only males, the mother and grand mother of the girl were two other females. I could not meet the mother of the child, as inspite of asking repeatedly, she din’t came outside. Grand mother on the other hand was very forthcoming and aggressive. She started and din’t stop talking. When she started narrating the story of what happened with the girl, I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

The child was having diarrhea, a common condition in kids of her age especially those living in such unhygeininc environment. But her diarrhea prolonged for days, weeks and for a month. She lost 30-40% of her body weight, slowly she became so week that she couldn’t stand/ walk. Untreated diarrhea led to significant electrolyte deficiency, her body became flaccid, convulsions developed, she lost consciousness. All through this, she was running high fever. This went on for more than 40 days. All this while, the family din’t do a thing. Her home is situated in the middle of the village bazaar, which is just a Kilo Meter away from nearby PHC, where 2-3 qualified doctors are available every morning free of cost. But the family never went to them, not because they din’t knew about them, they din’t go because they wanted and were waiting for the girl to die. Because one girl less meant lots of liabilities quashed.  More than the story itself, whats more frightening was the pride and confidence with which her grandmother narrated her story to me. I was flabbergasted, I asked her again ” Are you saying that you din’t took her to a doctor because you wanted her to die”, to which she proudly replied “yes” I was numb. The 5 year old girl was standing before my eyes, she looked like a  3 year old, lean, thin and as week as one can be. The suffering behind her innocent face made my heart cry, and more biting fact was the reality that, it’s not a big deal in this part of the world. After 40 days when she refused to die on her own, mother of the girl could wait no longer, she raised an alarm that the god is not allowing her to go  away, ” Pran atak gaya hai”, and she needs to be taken to a doctor, then only the grandmother took the unconscious girl to the PHC, where after some very ordinary medication and packets of ORS, within 2 days she was back in her conscious self. It was a sort of miracle for her to survive for so long, she indeed was a very special kid. Her will to survive, to remain alive, to come out in the world, to feel and experience it by living it to her heart’s content was far more superior then everyone else’s wish for her to die. I felt so ashamed, I could not see eye to eye with that kid, we all as a society have failed our girl child, how could I stand there and face the glare of her innocent eyes. I came out of that place, never to return but a part of me still is with that girl. It’s been around a year, and I pray to god, she remains healthy and survives the test of time. The miracle which has kept her alive, must be having a purpose, that purpose must not be undone.

Just few days back I met this boy. 6 year old boy in a body of a 3 year old. He was all filthy, wearing rags on his body. I started my examination, but there was no reaction from the boy, he just remained still. I was surprised, usually as we start our examination part, the kids start crying, or at least some uneasiness is reflected in their demeanor, but this one was a monk. he simply allowed it to happen to him, as if he has now stopped caring what world does to him.  I asked for his mother, was informed his mother is not mentally sound, she can’t talk about his condition. I asked about his father, I was told he has gone into the fields. He can’t come at once as he’s also a handicapped, don’t have both legs. I wondered how he manages to work in field, I was told he has to,  so as to keep the family afloat. I thought may be the five year old boy will say something about his condition, I need to make him talk. I was told the boy can’t talk, nobody knows why but he has never uttered a word. All his siblings speak, he doesn’t. Neighbours told me they will give him some “Awaz wali Dawai” and he will start speaking some day. I looked at him again, he was in tatters, mud on his face had formed a complete black coating, revealing that he’s not been bathed in weeks. His grandmother finally told all about him, about how he had a fit attack, how suddenly both upper and lower limb of his right side became weak. I started examining him, he din’t moved, he din’t showed any signs of being disturbed or even affected.

His village was 25 KMs inside the main road, bad roads and village after village filled with so many quacks. and his parents with no money, no education to understand his situation. I could see no hopes of him getting anywhere near the great medical experts we have in our country. He will always stay here, no matter what fate does to him, he will not respond, he will take it all and won’t say even a word in his defense. I tried to recall how so many similar stories are present in our villages, rarest of the rare diseases, for which the world is finding a cure, for which we are spending billions on research are being found in our villages and we don’t even come to know about it.  These kids from poorest of the poor places, nobody even comes to know what suddenly happened to them. They make their own assumptions about their conditions, the neighbors and everyone else who meets them also corroborates with that and then finally they start living with it. Hardly people from this social structure try to challenge this minuscule understanding, shows a will to fight. Villages after villages, tolas after tolas, millions and millions of our people are living a life like this, where they just take it on themselves and don’t try to change or fight their conditions. The boy standing before me epitomized the whole class, who could do nothing, who could ask no questions, just allowed the world to come, do whatever they please and go away. I completed my examination, at least 20-30 kids from village had assembled along with numerous adults, they all said their goodbyes but the boy for whom all this exercise had taken place, behind everyone else, he was standing still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curious Case of Nobody’s Village

The villages of India have progressed a lot in last few years.  More pucca homes have been built, more roads and more electricity in the villages, more opportunity for employment through MNREGA, more hospital facilities through NRHM and so on. But inspite of this, we are still far from providing fresh drinking water, electricity, hospitals and roads to each and every rural village. So  when resources are available for some, how does our system decide which of the village to be rewarded with these gems and which not. Distribution of these resources is governed usually by the principles of power and clout, a village which has more of these ends up getting everything and we all rejoice in the success of the great Indian  dream of a developed nation through a peek into the life of those villages . but then there are villages, who don’t have a powerful lobby behind them, who don’t vote in bulk, do not have muscle, money or political power, and are populated by harmless, nameless extremely poor classes. Nobody goes to these villages to cover/listen their problems, no media highlights there plight, no one sits on Jantar Mantar for them, no one fights with the system to get even a drop of drinking water for them, such villages are plenty, such villages are everywhere in the hard lands of our country,  such villages are what we call “Nobody’s villages”. In the great Indian administrative setup, such villages always end up getting nothing. The following story is about one such village.

This village exist within the ghettos of Bihar. I call them ghettos, because these places are no less than that. Bihar has tasted lots of developmental vitamins in last decade but even then these ghettos have remained. The life in the Mushar Tolas, harrijan Tolas is no better then any ghettos or any other poorest of the poor parts of the world. Our village is one such Ram Tolas among so many in this part of the world.Thanks to Gandhiji, these people have a decent name. About 50 odd Ram families live in this village. The village does not have power supply, is situated in middle of lush green fields(one of the most fertile farm lands are in this part). Expectedly all of the villagers work day in and day out in these fields and none of them owns even an inch of land they plough. Not a single hand pump has been put in the village hence no source of water, no source of light, nearest road is some kilometers away, a kuchcha road connects the village to the main road there. In the night when it grows dark, people have no source of light. Snakes, lizards and other variety of visitors visit the overtly exposed and highly vulnerable villagers and run havoc. Some of the children who go to school, have to walk a long distance in order to reach the neighboring village where school runs. No Anganwadi centre is present in the village and other village centers won’t accept children from this village. Earlier there used to be a mini AW centre where at least some food used to be distributed,  but as the AW Sevika found it to be very troublesome for her, she got this place removed from collective consciousness of the ICDS department. Since then kids from the village have no access to the nutritious food which ICDS provides, they hear and see adjacent village kids getting it and dream that some day their children would also have access to it.

The ironical thing about our country today is that outsiders are more concerned about the better future of our populace instead of us all. we may not be very much concerned about whether kids of our country’s villages are getting their square meals and potable water but the outsiders are hell bent that each one of them must get drops of medicines and vaccines. They may be concerned to protect their own interests but still,  whomsoever interest notwithstanding the ordinary villager finds in them someone who reaches out to them. To the contrary, from the government side nothing , absolutely nothing reaches the villager until they make multiple attempts, though mostly it doesn’t reach even then. This difference in their approach leads to strange contradictions like it happened in this village.

Year after Year and election after election they saw people come and go, but the village remained same. They approached officer after officer, babus after babus but the files refused to move. They were ill, they went to hospitals but the medicines were out of their reach. Free tests and medicines required paying handful of money to the counterwalla, which again they didn’t had, and hence slowly they lost all hope. The whole system failed them in its entirety. Then came the Poliowallahs. Every month without fail, behind them came officers and more officers. Villagers saw in amazement and it became the topic of discussion, why is it that everyone is so concerned about Polio. The grapevine became that rich and powerful want everyone to have this medicine so that their kids remain free of it. More intelligent (read ..) ones found that it is a compulsion of the rich to come and see whether all are getting it or not. The erstwhile repressed villager found something which he never thought he will, a point of refusal, something which he can refuse to those rich and famous who have refused him everything till now. As the murmur started by some miscreants grew into a noise in the village, it found many takers, among all ages and amongst all types. Even the more sincere and sober ones also were ready to bite the bullet. Let them come and give us electricity, jobs, roads, hand pumps which they have been distributing ceremoniously among them all, let them come and give us our due and then we will give them access to our children. Our children are dying anyway, Polio hardly kills so let it be.

The villagers refused to get their children vaccinated for Polio. A Polio vaccinator is used to of getting the brickbats for everything that the government doesn’t do. In every village people are unhappy for one reason or another right from their Anganwadis or the mid day meals in the schools, everyone has something to complain and the sole counter/window to register all such complains is a Polio Vaccinator because he/she shows up right at their doors. At first the vaccinators tried their own experience to negotiate the refusal, but it wasn’t a usual place. after all it was a ‘Nobody’s village’, it din’t had anything hence for them nothing was at stake. they refused to budge, the more active ones grew violent, some of them stashing bricks and all in their homes in case some sudden requirement presented itself. This one thing did in one evening what innumerous bonging, applications, complaints and prayers of those 150 odd villagers could not do in years, the district collector visited the village. Not only the DM but whole district administration came with him, SP, DSP and DDC came, had a long chat with the villagers. In those 15 minutes of their visit, they promised everything, answers were sought, explanation were asked from concerned officers about why the files have not moved. The officers  promised them everything from roads, electricity and hand pumps to schools and Anganwadi centers. The villagers were in awe of the moment, they felt their dreams have come true.the matter was solved then and there and vaccination begun.

Months passed, nothing happened, no water, no electricity nothing reached the village. In the next Polio rounds, they again refused to vaccinate the kids. But this time, nobody came. The issue was raised in the meetings and dismissed, it was a nobody’s village after all, who was concerned about it. Everyone did what was mandatory for them and then there was no need to do anything else.  Nobody’s village lost the sole thing which it used to get without asking, now like water and electricity Polio vaccination also stopped reaching them. No one had any issues with this situation, vaccinators were happy they were paid and do not have to work for that day. Ironically the only noise was made by the international organization. questions were asked about what the administration was doing. Soon the administration realized they need to do something about it. Before next Polio rounds, when officials were asked how they plan to get the vaccination done since none of the promises were kept, they answered “we have managed it”. The 2-3 main faces of the village movement were coalesced and were bought with some money and some booze to get out of the way and they had. The great Indian administration had once again proved their supremacy over the amateur and raw front put up by the poorest and weakest group of daily wage earners. they had tossed some coins and it had came crashing down. And the statement was issued by district administration ” We won’t be dictated by someone’s blackmail, the work will be carried out routinely and all places will get their due accordingly.” Everyone was happy.

It has been an year, the nobody’s village still exists, no electricity or hand pumps have been installed. but they don’t oppose Polio vaccination anymore. They have given up to the system, they know they did all they could and lost. Nothing else remains to be done.  They are still waiting for the “routine process” to bring to them electricity and drinking water. This wait and it’s answers is what makes the “Curious case of nobody’s village”.

 

Why Village Voices 2014?

In the later parts of 2012, like every year some students from TISS were sent to the hard lands of Rajasthan on a routine internship exercise in an elusive organization called Urmul. Along with the group, I was about to join the organization for what was going to be a journey of a lifetime. Like any modern day enthusiast, I googled the organization to get some idea about what it is and what my 2 months would be like. My search took me from one page to another, among them one thing caught my eye, there was a link and it was everywhere, a photograph of a man in his thirties, simple and bearded, looking like a typical modern day Social Worker many of them I see everywhere in my alma mater TISS. I looked at him with the same disgust and disinterest, the way I see my similar looking fellow TISSians. I tried to ignore him but he was too omnipresent to ignore for a long time. I finally decided I need to know who this man is and why he’s naggingly present everywhere. That Man was Sanjay Ghose, a man whom I was going to admire, idolize, follow and understand all my life.

The enigma of Sanjay Ghose was enormous, or should I say I discovered him in a big way. I was so surprised why I never heard of him before or read about him somewhere as everything in my research suggested he was a well discussed and well publicized character. A man from a polished background, Bengali bhadralok, resorting to an uncomfortable life, in lands far far away from the cosy imagery of a well read and well bread youngster of modern era. In the life of  Sanjay Ghose, what he chose to do in life is almost as equally significant as what he chose not to do. He was the man who always had the world at his feet, being selected to the august trinity of ABC IIMs or getting selected to every coveted fellowships, he had them all. He could have been easily in Civil Services if he wanted to, but he chose to be in the middle of nowhere, in the lands disowned by even Gods. He decided he had to live a life helping those who can’t help themselves. It takes tremendous amount of courage and guts to take that decision and to follow it in the exceptionally odd circumstances, which he did. There are many examples in India, where great men and women have sacrificed their entire life for a cause, but what differentiates Sanjay Ghose from all of them is his approach. He never owned a place, or one cause or one organization. He was like a Che Guevara of Indian Development Sector, who probably wanted to create a method for the development of different nooks and corners of the world, which reflects the broad viewpoint and unparalleled selflessness this man had for what he wanted to do. He could have rejoiced what he did to Urmul in the  sandy nothingness of Bikaner, would have gone places and had a wonderful life being a professor of a esteemed University but choosing the obvious was not his ballgame, and that is the most attractive and enigmatic part of his persona. He went to the Beautiful but dangerously complicated Assam as his next destination. Had he been alive today there would be numerous examples all across the country of how things can be changed, how the same localites who today are part of the problem, who are confused, undereducated and unable to find any solutions to the problems of their region  can be made so efficient to run a full fledged organization of their own and do all kinds of development works which anyone else would find difficult to accomplish. This is what that man wanted to do, this is what the method which he wanted to create and to show the world. Much like the gift of cooperative dairies, which the Milkman of India, Dr Verghese Kurien gave to the country leading to formation of Dairy Development Board of India and numerous flourishing Milk Dairies across the country including the mighty AMUL, Sanjay Ghose’s legacy would have been numerous locally run decentralized social organizations committed to work for the betterment of their own land.

During the times of Urmul, Sanjay used to write a weekly column in national dailies by the name of ‘Village Voices’. This column used to have various stories, insights and other issues concerning the lives of rural India. Authentic Rural voice in an English Newspaper is indeed a rare commodity. Among the very few who choose to live in the difficult terrains of rural India and are well acquainted with the real issues, rarely  decide to write. Outsiders have had an entirely different perspective towards different problems, hence Ghose’s column was need of the hour. Today esteemed writers like Dr P. Sainath are continuously writing on issues of rural India, but still by and large these issues are missing from the mainstream of collective sensibility.

I am basically a novice, an avid enthusiast of rural issues and since last one year I have been traveling to some of the poorest and remotest parts of our country and meeting, talking and working along with the people therein. The kind of people I meet, the kind of stories I come across are unique and they need to be told and shared among one and all. The idea of Village Voices was always in my mind and when I decided to write a blog about my experiences of rural Bihar, I could name it nothing else but village voice.