By Dr. R. Balasubramaniam
Many years ago, I ran chasing young Manjula (whom I used to fondly call Chikkaputti), a 7-year-old Jenukuruba tribal girl. She was determined to escape being caught and was trying her desperate best to avoid coming to our school. Not someone who would give up easily, I went after her as she took flight into the forest by jumping over the shallow trench separating the school from the neighbouring Bandipur National Park. After 15 minutes of this cat and mouse game, Chikkaputti finally decided that she had troubled me enough and allowed herself to be caught and brought back to the school.
I still vividly remember the many times we enacted this drama that would leave me bleeding from the many scratches and bruises that the local shrubs left me with. Chikkaputti did go on to finish her schooling and outdid herself. She was one of the first Jenukuruba (considered a Primitive and Vulnerable Tribal Group in India) persons to complete her 10th standard and was a natural artist. She could paint and sketch astounding images, all from her memory. She decided to put on hold her studies for a few years and asked to work in our own school as an art teacher.
I still remember her trying to convince me why it was important for her to work now rather than go on and study. She wanted to take care of her single mother and her family and also save some money for her future educational needs. After a few years, she wanted to study and we got her into a good art school in Mysore. Dr. Vasantha, one of SVYM’s friend and well-wisher, agreed to play host and asked Chikkaputti to stay with her during her studies. Chikkaputti not only went to acquire a professional qualification in art and painting but also did very well in her final exams at the State-level.
Unlike many of her contemporaries who still sought the support and network of SVYM to find jobs, Chikkaputti went on to find a job as a teacher in a school in Mysuru city. She also married a person of her choice and settled down in Mysuru itself. It was a few days ago that she called me asking for help. I was happy to learn that she now had 2 little children and was keen on getting her first child aged 6 years admitted to a good school in Mysuru.
Here was this young woman lecturing me on the importance of education and what a good school would mean to her child. When I asked her to use the RTE and apply to neighbourhood schools for free education, her spontaneous response was that she did not need any support or subsidy for her children and could afford to send them to school on her own. What a long way she had come indeed from her life as a rebellious young girl wanting to avoid school at any cost to finding a good school for her children, whatever the price it entailed.
As I sat reflecting on her and how she had shaped her life, I was left wondering what had actually changed — was it her social and economic mobility that had changed her focus towards schooling and education? Or was it the peer pressure of her neighbours and friends who all lived in Mysuru and for whom schooling was a natural step in the phase of growing up. Or was she seeking a sense of security for her children that schooling usually brings along.
Whatever the reasons may be, Chikkaputti is part of the new India that is rising. She belongs to a generation that is no longer satisfied with the status quo and are constantly seeking to better their lives. All people like her need are opportunities and not doles that the State thinks the poor and the marginalised need.
[Dr. R. Balasubramaniam is a development activist and Founder of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. He can be reached at: [email protected]]