“Our Jharkhand state is known as an Education-Hub……….” with these kinds of loud proclamations, our Chief Minister and the Education Minister grabbed the media’s front-page headlines. When I shared this big news with my constituents in the Maoist dominated Gumla district, they laughed aloud. For most of them, it was another cruel joke played by ruling BJP Government in Jharkhand. The Government continue to talk big followed by little or no changes at the ground.
One of the natives asked vociferously, “Why does our elected Representatives and Government continue to make fool of us?” Second one enquired, “Why don’t our press ask tough questions to our rulers’ here…..why can’t they show them the pathetic state of Education in our region?” Another one sang in loud voice, “No Ullu Banoing……..please.”They kept tossing their pointed queries and barbed comments.
In this article, I share details about my visit to 3 kinds of schools in rural Jharkhand. Not so long ago, I had travelled in remote areas of the said districts and come face to face with the harsh ground realities. On that fine day, I along with my small team had journeyed deep into this Red- zone. It was a hectic road trip on the long stretches of the bad roads. Our muscular vehicles tried really hard to manage the roads filled with big potholes. But it could not keep the shock-waves away. Anyway, after we had crisscrossed the dodgy state highway, we left the Ghaghra Block Headquarters of Gumla District behind and took a turn towards the far-flung rural areas of the state.
My ancestral village falls in this battle weary zone. So, I decided to discuss my tour plans with an acquaintance, a senior police official of the District. He counselled me to travel anonymously and to use couple of local vehicles only. I should avoid refrain from attracting unnecessary attention. All of these were sane suggestions.
I vividly remember that on that morning, we were stopped by the heavily armed government forces, as our vehicles tried to traverse through the Jharkhand Police check-naka to enter that distant region. On that lonely road, couple of gun-toting guards walked up to us and asked us to get our vehicles checked. I could see the pointed metallic barrels of the automatic guns aimed directly at us. Few of these alert guards were safely standing behind the strategically placed heavy sacks of sands and the brick-barriers. It was amply clear that we were entering the active conflict zone, situated right at the heart of our country. The battle for supremacy and the area domination was on. No warring sides are willing to concede an inch. No one was going to take any chances here.
While my team members chatted with the local police officer in charge; my local friends took me aside and drew my attention towards the light yellow coloured concrete building on the other side of that narrow road. He told me that once upon a time that building used to be a reputed Government High School. Today, that school is no longer there. Now it is a safe house for the Government forces.
Few years ago, for the safety of the local denizens, these armed Security forces had moved in this cemented school building. Since then, they have suitably modified, reinforced and fortified it. And the walls of the school have become unusually tall. It resembled the high and thick walls of the jail. Even from a safe distance, we could see the armed guards perched atop the sentries’ posts behind these thick walls. These armed security men were keeping a close watch on the entire area, including the sole road leading into the remote rural pockets.
When I enquired about the fate of young school students? I was informed that most of these students have dropped out. Some of them moved away to either study or work at other places.
After a while, the security forces concluded their search of our vehicles. Then the police check-naka in charge allowed us to continue with our onward journey.
It was time to head towards my ancestral village, located amidst the scenic beauty of South Chotanagpur Plateau. Sadly, it is situated in the isolated part of the Red-dominated Gumla district. My village falls in the vicinity of thick jungle and the green mountain range. It is an open secret that the Red-extremists live in these mountains. In the distant past, one of my uncles was kidnapped by these Red-extremists. Anyway, I shall not dwell on that in this article.
Ignoring the threats from unpredictable Reds as well as treacherous village Roads (kacha-rasta), we continued with our journey towards my village.
At my village, we met the old aged Principal of the village Middle School. As he shared his travails with us, I was in for a shock. He teaches the entire School of about 450 students alone. Yes, you heard it right. He is the sole teacher and the principal of that Middle School. I won’t be naming him here, because he might lose his government job. Incidentally, the said Middle School was the first school of my father. In fact, he got nostalgic, when he visited his alma-mater, after so many years.
We also held an informal meeting at our village ‘akhra’. It was attended by all the villagers. At that informal meeting, I casually asked them, “How many of you are pursuing college education?” Only one hand went up. In a village of nearly 300 families, only one student is attending college.
The natives complained that there are no college in the vicinity. Not a single college in the nearby block head-quarter Ghaghra. The one college student who had raised his hand, he had to migrate to neighbouring Lohardaga district to get college education. The other college is in the district headquarter Gumla. That college is much farther away from my village. Besides, both of these colleges have limited number of seats on offer. Not all school-pass-outs from hundreds of villages across Ghaghra block can get admission into these two. I was informed that the lack of educational opportunities for our kids and the youngsters is the gravest issue that my villagers face.
Finally after an extended meeting with my people, we took leave. It was afternoon. This time, we decided to take a different route through the neighbouring villages on our return journey.
On our way back, we passed good number of trucks, carrying heavy loads of freshly mined Bauxite rocks. No wonder, with hundreds of heavy-loaded trucks plying, even the kacha-roads have all but disappeared. They have been replaced by the village roads boasting of deep holes. The well laden black tar road is a luxury in this part of the world. On almost daily basis, hundreds of these Bauxite carrying trucks spew heavy red-dust particles on these hapless villages.
Anyway, while traversing these treacherous streets, on our right, we could see the not so dense forests and the unbroken mountain range on our right side. These mountain range, that extends from Gumla to Lohardaga district and even to the neighbouring Latehar districts are home-base of Red-extremism in South Chotanagpur plateau. It is pertinent to note that these mountain ranges also have huge Bauxite mineral deposit. For last 5 decades or so, one of the leading Aluminium Conglomerate is operating their mines in these mountains. It’s a proverbial goldmine for them.
Suddenly, our speeding vehicle screeched to halt; as one young man jumped right in front of our jeep. He told us that he was trying to get our attention and he simply wanted us to visit the private school. We agreed after a brief discussion. Then he escorted us to a dilapidated school building, located not very far from the busy road.
He ushered us towards the centrally located big door, so we could enter that Primary school building. It was a big hall. Interestingly, all the different classes were running under single roof. The classes were separated by knee height level walls. I could see only one lady teacher teaching different classes simultaneously. The students were sitting on the floor. Once we were inside the so-called school building, the young man introduced himself as the Principal and care-taker of the said school. That lady teacher was his only colleague; together they were teaching around 200 students of nearby villages within the monthly budget of Rs. 10000, which included their monthly salaries too. What was astonishing that this school was funded by a multi-billionaire Aluminium Conglomerate under its CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) scheme? Really, I was left speech less.
These ground realities were an eye-opener of the most shocking kind. In case, one happens to travel across rural Jharkhand, then one is likely to find similar sad stories about the education sector. It is apparent that another of school kids and college age students are being denied educational opportunities by the apathetic and shameless government in rural Jharkhand. And I wondered does our Government really care about our people living in these violence-ridden Red-Corridor regions. I think they lack honest-intentions to solve aam-janta’s problems living is non-urban centres. And it really is tragic, because bulk of our denizens live in rural areas.
Really, all these boastful talks about Jharkhand’s Education-Hub seem like another cruel joke being played by the PR and Publicity savvy state government.
[Author’s Note: As per their explicit requests of the concerned persons, the names of the Schools and the Teachers have not been disclosed in this article.]
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