Monday, November 29, 1999

Education sector, a casualty in Bastar

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Kanker (Chhattisgarh), June 16 (ANI): The storm clouds have been hovering over Bastar for a long time now. The growing violence, the insecurity of life and limb and what seems to be a protracted battle to establish the rule of law and a modicum of good governance.This is the disturbing and even fratricidal picture that emerges from south Chhattisgarh.The persisting environment of conflict spells a threat to the tribals in Kanker district. This is just a little on the periphery but what here are the storm clouds that have now burst upon Dantewada.The presence of Naxal groups for last so many years now is a harsh fact that locals have to live with, but it has not reached the flash point. The ongoing conflict has forced them to live compromised lives and nowhere is this more glaring than in seeking and getting their entitlements, the benefit of government programs that is their due.The government-run primary schools and middle schools have been established and functioning. But many of them have been badly hit by the ongoing conflict.Naxals have systematically destroyed many of these buildings in the Durg Kondal Block, particularly, over the last one year, and left the children and their families bereft of education.Ironically, education has been made a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.The question that comes to mind is will the tribals in Kanker remain excluded from this Right to Education?The fallout of the conflict is certainly deeper than the incidents of violence, highly condemnable by themselves. But those are not the only casualties.Earlier a 'Grameen Bank' or, the village bank was the target in the same Block. But the destruction of school buildings has been a step-up in the violence; one that strikes at the root of any possible development.It is not about the physical damage to school buildings alone.In far-flung villages, teachers fearing Naxals are reluctant to take up their assignments. It simply leads to students' suffering.Though the destroyed school buildings are then taken up as an issue at the Panchayat followed by an official intimation to the local MLA, restoration of these buildings does not keep pace with the requirement or urgency. As a result, education suffers.The need for education and an exposure to the world outside; to skills and training is perhaps one of the overriding needs of the region. It's something that would enable the tribal, cocooned in a kind of timelessness, to engage with this world more meaningfully.Even in a normal scenario, the impetus for education amongst the tribal communities is low. So used are they to their life style, based on agriculture and gathering of forest produce to be sold in village 'haats', that the older generation is not overly enthusiastic. They do not ask the youth to take to this path.In most cases, after finishing schooling till standard VIII, parents are unwilling to send their children out of the village for higher education. Invariably, their educational journey ends then and there.The children inhabit a no-man's land, cocooned and hung between the life-patterns of the older generation and the modern developments which they are not equipped to keep pace with. Understandably, it is a difficult situation.To provide a right environment for education, to motivate the community and establish the infrastructure and resources, is clearly the government's responsibility. Yet in the face of intimidation and threat by the Naxal groups, all of this stands compromised.So where does the buck stop? Essentially what would it entail for providing an environment where access to education is unhindered. For that is clearly the first step towards an enlightened society.It is not as if the State government is oblivious to the cause of education in the villages of Bastar region. (The earlier undivided Bastar included Kanker district) Its schemes are very much in place. Girls students of standard IX are provided with bicycles by the State Government, to promote their mobility as often the distance to the high school is very far.Books are provided free of cost till Middle school, Class VIII. The Mid-Day Meal scheme till primary schooling or standard V is also functioning. The State government has made an additional provision to provide meals to students in senior classes.Despite all these steps, education lags behind. The Government has remained powerless to change the mindset of people, to instil in them the critical need for education.What it instead is focusing on is to ensure that there are no loopholes in the provisions in the system. For instance, the number of vacant teaching posts; Last December, the State Government conducted an admission test for 30,000 posts for teachers across Chhattisgarh.One tends to think what is the answer to the vortex of problems that ails the region? Is it the end of violence or the beginning of good governance? Or, does it all begin with a rising awareness, of setting of developmental agendas with full participation of the people themselves?If that is so, then the case for education becomes even stronger. Only if people were educated, would they be able to make informed choices and take steps towards their advancement in the overall sense.According to Charkha Features, the impetus for this will have to come from within. Perhaps, if this happens amongst the tribal communities, we can hope for not only a growth in education, but in all those aspects of development which can help Bastar reject the path of destruction and adapt an alternate one that leads to peace and plenty. By Dinesh Sahu(ANI)

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