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Children performing at the Rangamati school

2 schools for the tribal child in the middle of nowhere

Subir Roy, Jamshedpur

This is a story of two schools. Both are in the same area, embedded in the same community. But there are key differences which offer an insight into how the process of mainstreaming poor tribal children happens in stages, with both the formal and non-formal support structures being equally important.

It is customary to visit a school during the day but we go to the informal school at Ghagiasahi, a tribal hamlet around a kilometre from the Sukinda chromite mines of Tata Steel in Odisha’s Jajpur district, after dark. Once we get there we know why. There is a festive mood with tribal dancers and drummers performing with gusto.

In fact, the place properly comes alive routinely only in the afternoon when the children arrive and first tend to the vegetable garden and flowering plants. Then, with sundown, there is a prayer meeting followed by study and teaching, mostly in the form of help in coping with what has been taught at the government school earlier in the day.

Finally, there is dinner. The food is important as it is an incentive for the children to come. And they stay on until well into the evening because the area is not free from the typical power cuts that plague rural India and if they were to be nearer home there would in all probability be darkness and learning possible only by kerosene lamp.

IN A COWSHED WITH LAMPLIGHT

Tata Steel employees’ involvement with the village and its children goes back two decades to 1994 when two of its young employees, Sri Krishna Mohanty and Gokulananda Tarai, while passing through on their bicycles, saw something both uplifting and saddening. In the gathering gloom a group of young boys and girls was busy with studies in a cowshed around a kerosene lamp.

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