We all have fond memories of our childhoods, the most cherished period of our lives. A time filled with the unstinting love of our parents, when we played away to our hearts’ content, in the company of school friends, making grown-ups give in to our tantrums – those were the days! But not all children are so lucky. Some children have to grow up quickly, if they lose their parents. One sometimes sees such children, acting much beyond their age, clinging to their extended families with not a word of complaint. Instead they may be found doing some household chores as if to justify their presence there. Due to such pressures and feelings of isolation, we find that they cannot pay proper attention in school.
Ten year old Vishwanath Sannu Habka from Gadchiroli belongs to the Madia-Gond adivasi community. He lost his father three years ago. His mother remarried and went off with the new husband leaving Vishwanath and his younger sister Rajani behind with their grandfather Pusu Narango Habka in Nelgunda. He looked after the children for a couple of years, but due to age and ill health he was unable to continue with the responsibility. He sent them off to his cousin at Hemalkasa Tola. Pusu thought that Vishwanath would go to school and would be well looked after there. But unfortunately Vishwanath was weighed down in his new surroundings and the once quiet child went further into his shell.
He would go to the ZP school at Hemalkasa but could not concentrate on his studies. He would do the chores given to him at home without complaining. He offered to take the goats and cattle to graze. He seemed to prefer the company of these four legged creatures to human beings. He could not cope with the school work and often cried himself to sleep as he was missing his parents. Though he was not ill-treated, no one ever hear him laugh like a 10 year old.
Finally in 2016, he could bear it no more and returned to his grandfather’s house. He liked it here and would not return to Hemalkasa. His grandfather too did not insist that Vishu should return to Hemalkasa. Vishu had his childhood friends in Nelgunda and quickly re-connected with them. He never returned to school. Though his grandfather loved him, he too had aged and they were poor. Pusu ignored the issue of send Vishu back to school.
Since Vishu had missed school for more than a month and half, he was considered an out of school child by the authorities, even though he had been studying in the 3rd standard at Hemalkasa. In December 2016, some MPSP (Maharashtra Prathamik Shikshan Parishad) officials were on a tour of the remote Bhamragad and Etapalli talukas of Gadchiroli District. This tour was organised by Pramod Gaokar (Asistant Director, MPSP) and Vikram Singh Yadav (Deputy Director, MPSP). During the tour Vikram Singh Yadav reached Nelgunda some 150 kms from Gadchiroli, in Bhamragad tehsil. As the officials took stock of the number of children in school and other data, he noticed this boy playing outside the school. When he inquired whether the boy attended school regularly, he was told that the boy was from Hemalkasa and had never attended this school.
Vikram Singh Yadav immediately went out and called Vishu inside. Assuming that he would get into trouble, Vishu refused and quietly sat down on the ground. Instead of asking him to come inside the school, Vikram Singh went and sat next to the boy, keeping his tone casual. He asked, “Why don’t you come to school? Don’t you like it?” Now convinced that he would be punished Vishu uttered a few incoherent words like, “School… Hemalkasa… my grandfather… Nelgunda.” Seeing that Vishu was too frightened to talk to him, Vikram Singh decided to visit his grandfather.
Vikram Singh met Vishu’s grandfather and requested him to send Vishu to school. He also gathered information about his parents. In fact he tried to convince Vishu’s grandfather how it was important for Vishu to be amongst his peers, do activities that were suitable to his age, in order to overcome his misery about his family situation. Moreover, this was a chance for Vishu to get a good education so that he could be independent once he grew up. Pusu, the grandfather, had doubts about whether Vishu could attend school at Nelgunda since his name was enrolled in the Hemalkasa school. Vikram Singh said that he would take care this issue and that Vishu’s name would get deleted from the rolls of the Hemalkasa school once he enrolled locally.
Before leaving Vikram Singh assured Vishu that he could go to school here, play with his friends and enjoy his stay since he preferred being at Nelgunda. After he returned to the school, Vikram Singh instructed the Principal and teachers to enroll Vishu in the Nelgunda school as soon as possible. He also reminded them to treat Vishu with love and understanding, given his background. He also pointed out to the officials that supervision was not just about officials’ visiting school, but included communication with parents, and trying to understand the problems faced by students in their studies. Similarly, apart from teaching well, the teacher also had to try and understand the child and make her feel comfortable. He asked the officials to ensure that not a single child like Vishwanath remained out of the school system.
On 21st December 2016, Vishwanath Habka re-entered the school system. He is studying in the 3rd standard. He can read a bit of Marathi and is gradually overcoming his shyness. He is making friends with his classmates and his younger sister Rajani attends the play school. It has been possible for Vishwanath to return to school and eventually to make progress, because of an alert and conscientious officer and supportive teachers.
Blog: Nakul Lanjewar, Primary School teacher, Zilla Parishad Primary School, Kosabi, Gadchiroli District
With inputs from: Samatadoot Ghanashyam Vandhrey, Resource person, Jagdish Badrey, Cluster Education Officer Bhamragad and others.
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team