A Memorable and Joyful Experience of Visiting a School for the Tribal Children of Odisha

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 27 Nov 2017

Dr. Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

27 Nov 2017 – Many countries worldwide – Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and other parts of Africa and Asia have indigenous peoples living in these countries. They have been living in these regions for centuries in their own simple manner close to the Mother earth without exploiting it by using its resources prudently. They hunt, grow some crops and use the forests for their daily needs for food, shelter and cultural activities. They also have their distinct languages many of which are still surviving in the modernity that prevails all over the world. Although many customs and many languages have become extinct, it is satisfying to note that some countries take special care to support their tribal people and their cultures and languages. For example, Maori language has been declared to be the second official language of New Zealand in addition to English.

In a certain sense these tribes are similar to some other communities that avoid modern life and its amenities and live close to the Earth. These are the Amish and the Mennonite communities who belonged to a separate Christian sect and who migrated from some European countries – Switzerland, Germany, Belgium etc. about three hundred years ago and came to Pennsylvania in USA where land was available in plenty; these people could continue their farm related lives. Waves of the people belonging to these communities came over to several regions of USA and subsequently moved to northern parts of America and Canada.

India also has hundreds of different tribal peoples living in different regions – Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and other states of the country. They are generally referred to as Adivasis that means people of jungles and forests They live in their traditional simple life styles in their scattered forestlands and maintain their traditional cultures, cuisines and languages. Inroads due to the development paradigm have been made into their homes and forest lands and some tribes have been forced to evacuate from their homes and displaced to other regions.

Although the Adivasis do face several difficulties trying to adjust themselves to their relocated shelters and modern lifestyles the various State governments where they live have also taken special care for their shelter, health, livelihoods, schooling etc. Legally many schemes for their benefit and emancipation are available. One of the important provisions is to grant them the status of Scheduled Tribes (STs) with certain privileges towards housing, schooling, creation of jobs and even contesting elections from certain reserved seats meant specially for these people.

As indicated earlier the State of Odisha in the eastern part of India has a large share of tribes — about sixty tribal communities. Several tribal people who are designated as Scheduled Tribes (STs) who constitute about one fifth of the population of the State and about ten percent of the total tribal population of India. Some of these tribes are named as Banjara, Bhumia, Ho, Santhals. etc. The Kondha tribe is the largest one in the state with a population of about one million. They speak various languages that are part of the Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Austric group of languages.

Another tribe of the State is called Kisan (meaning farmers) reside in Sambalpur, Sundergarh  and adjoining areas. They speak the Kisan dialect along with Odia, Hindi and some amount of English. They also love to sing and dance for which they are justifiably proud.

Recently, I had an opportunity to go to a university called Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) located in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha. The University runs various courses in the Social Sciences and also has special arrangements for tribal students of various tribes found in Odisha and neighboring States. There are about ten thousand tribal children studying both at the school and at College levels.

The School and the College is absolutely free – no fees or any other monetary burden is placed on the children or their parents. Not only tuition fees but even books, clothes and shoes etc. are provided to all the children. The hostels – separate for boys and girls also charge no fees for food or accommodation. Obviously this is done for the development of tribal children from the point of view of both their health and educational needs.

We were taken to see the school and the various facilities it provides to the tribal children. There was a large dining room that could accommodate about three or four thousand children where children would sit down on their mats and eat sitting cross-legged on the clean floor of this room. Obviously there was a large kitchen to prepare the food. Not only some elderly staff was preparing the simple menu of rice, vegetables and dal (pulses), the children were also helping in cutting and cleaning vegetables and passing these to the kitchen staff. The idea behind children doing these chores was obvious – to help them understand how food is prepared and to partake in all activities in keeping the kitchen and dining room and adjoining rooms clean and tidy.

I saw that the children seemed to be enjoying these activities – they were simultaneously talking to each other and sharing jokes. We were told that all children participated in these activities turn by turn. There were also playgrounds and yoga centers where children would exercise in the morning or evenings after classes were formally over.

Two of the classrooms that we saw were simple with mats available for seating of children on the floors. There was also a small table and a chair for the teacher. The school also had a few laboratories for the science students. We were informed that they were equipped with simple equipment for teaching elements of Physics, Chemistry and Biology to the students.

After seeing the school and its facilities, we were about to take leave when we saw students joyfully returning from their classes. The boys were going in one direction and the girl students in another. We asked if the male and female students studied separately. “No’, our guide informed us, “they study together but now they are going to their respective hostels which are in different parts of the school campus”.

I tried to talk to a few older students but communication was poor partly because they did not speak Hindi too well and partly out of shyness of the students in front of these grown up professors.

Even though we could not converse much with the students the journey to KISS and its school was an educational and a learning experience. Seeing the small and older children studying together and participating in various activities with hope and joy in their eyes was a memorable experience. These tribal children are lucky and will surely grow in a few years’ time into fine adults and citizens of the country.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Nov 2017.

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