One swallow does not make a summer in Bastar

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DANTEWARA - Life for Adivasis or, the tribals in Bastar has been like traversing several time zones and development paradigms. Their traditional lifestyle that is dependent on forest produce and ethos of community living, of sharing of resources, continues even today.

Yet, they stand poised on the threshold of modernity, an era in which the world beyond theirs has completely changed and the influences are finding their way into the forests and preserves of the Adivasi way of life.

But it seems the way forward to move ahead of the life tribals have to lead goes through education. Indeed, the Adivasis are covered by several schemes meant for Scheduled Tribes (STs) across the country, some of which have been in existence from the time of Indian independence. Under several Government scholarship schemes, students from ST category are supported financially till middle school. It is meant to enable them to reach this significant stage of a child’s education.

Inspite of this, large swathes of our country which have a high ST population, mostly forested regions like Bastar, lag behind in this crucial sector. It could be a game-changer for development of not only the children but for the region as a whole.

The reasons are not unique to Bastar, rather endemic to rural regions across the country. Schemes, which exist, usually do not see the light of the day given their poor implementation. Equally, lack of awareness amongst tribal communities whom it is meant to benefit, adds to the problem.

Yet amidst such a scenario of poor development and an ill-informed local population, there are times when one person embarks on a journey seeking a way out.

In Dantewada’s Barsur village, in Chalki ‘para’; a cluster within a village often demarcated by locals themselves, one person set out on such a quest.

Coming from a poor and landless family that earned its livelihood through agricultural labour, Raju, the young man, dared to dream big.

He and his younger sister were faced with an uncertain future due to poverty and lack of opportunities. Though both of them fell in the prescribed category of ST, Raju’s family found itself excluded from the Government schemes. It wasn’t unusual for most of the people in his village.

Raju, hence, focused on education. Despite his impoverished background, the lack of electricity in the house, he persisted in studying under candle light and completed his primary education in the village. He shifted to live with his paternal uncle in another village to continue his middle school education. He would sell newspapers to pay his fees and thus be able to support his studies.

Raju’s efforts bore fruit when he managed to clear standard XII exams.

For family’s sake, Raju’s younger sister took up a job. It made her able to not only provide for the basic expenses of the family but also send Raju some money at times. Since such a help couldn’t be regular, Raju struggled to earn while continuing his studies.

It was after receiving higher secondary education that the road ahead panned out, both beckoning and also intimidating. Neither Raju had any money to get enrolled into a college, nor did his family had the means to support Raju’s hostel accommodation.

Some of his friends pooled in funds to give an initial boost. But, thereafter, he had to earn while he learnt. Picking up odd jobs, cycling 27 kilometres from his village to and fro on a borrowed bike, Raju finally tasted success. With a Master of Arts or M.A, he had achieved something unimaginable for a poor tribal boy living in Bastar.

The elation, however, was short-lived. Raju, like several other youths of the country despite huge but latent potential and an incredible achievement, from a tribal’s standards, and his daunting spirit to prove himself in any field-remained jobless.

Shattered by a futile job search for a long time, Raju was encouraged by his family. Even though they were not in a position to offer any concrete advice, they rallied around their son who was by now a young man on the threshold of a new life of dignity.

The much-awaited break for Raju came with a vacancy in the Indian Army. It brought a big cheer in the entire family. Since then his family prospered.

Today, there are several families and particularly the youth in Barsur village, who derive inspiration from Raju’s journey of life. His has been a story of persistence and a belief in oneself. Moreover, his journey has showcased everyone in the village the education’s immense potential to transform lives.

What, however, needs change at a more systemic level is the accessibility of tribal communities in Bastar. More lives need to be opened up to engender change, ensure progress of a region which lags behind in development. It is interesting that during the mid 1980s, when Raju’s story was unfolding, there were a number of prominent schemes by the Central Government like ‘Eklavya Adarsh Avasi Vidyalaya’. These are meant for Scheduled Tribe communities enabling them to access primary, middle, secondary and higher secondary education.

But Raju was unaware of this and forged ahead, driven by a burning desire to be educated and change his circumstances. He was also supported by family and friends. But hundreds of tribal youth in Bastar may not find such fortuitous situations. It is feared that the burden of poverty and lack of channels for their progress would be too much for them to bear, shackling them to the very conditions that they seek to change.

According to Charkha Features, it must be remembered that responsible governments are those who do not hide behind the smoke-screen of existing programmes but reach out pro-actively to those it is meant to benefit.

To wait for more Rajus to struggle through the myriad obstacles to emerge a winner would be in fact to push many others to a life of deprivation. At a time when the government is raising the banner of development in areas affected by naxal violence, in an area acutely affected like Bastar, this becomes all the more crucial. By Sawan Kumar Nag(ANI)

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