Narmada Jeevan Shalas : Reconstruction through tribal education
Report for year 2000

Editorial note : The jeevanshalas are the schools run by the NBA in the Narmada Valley and are the only function schools in the area after 53 years of Independence

The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been fighting against the Sardar Sarovar Project for the last 15 years. Stopping the dam that will displace hundreds and thousands of tribal and peasant communities, has been the immediate and more visible goal of the struggle. But, the struggle from its very outset has been rooted in a vision for a society based on equity, self-reliance and simple living. Thus, Sangharsh aur Navnirman (Struggle and Reconstruction) have been two essential components of the Andolan from the very beginning.

Jeevan Shalas : The Genesis

In the tribal villages situated in the hilly terrain of the Vindhya and the Satpura, Government schools simply functioned on paper for last 50 years. According to the official record, many villages have primary schools, though, on ground, no such schools actually function. Teachers visit the village usually on 15th August (Independence Day) and 26th January (Republican Day), hoist the flag and go away. For decades, teachers have been collecting their salary from the district Head quarters by manipulating the enrollment, attendance and examination records, without running the school even for a day.

During the early years of people's mobilization against the Sardar Sarovar dam, issue of non-functioning - Kagji (Paper) schools was taken up several times. The demand was to "Close the ghost schools". Collector was forced to suspend these teachers, but situation did not change fundamentally, as the corrupt system was suitable for everyone, except the adivasis. Finally, the Andolan thought of starting schools in this area and that is how 'Jeevan Shalas' were born. In 1991-92, when tribal villages in the Narmada valley, were determined to challenge unjust submergence due to rising wall of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Jeevan Shalas were started in Chimalkhedi and Nimgavan village. In 1995, the Supreme Court of India ordered a stay on the construction of Sardar Sarovar dam. After that Jeevan Shalas and efforts for reconstruction spread to some more villages. Today there are Jeevan Shalas in Jalsindhi (Madhya Pradesh), Turkheda (Gujarat), Manibeli, Nimgavan, Tinees Mal, Savariya, Bharad, Kumbri, Danel and Gaman (Maharashtra).

Jeevan Shalas are run not for replacing the non-functioning government schools, but to provide education that is relevant and meaningful for tribal children. The challenge for the Jeevan Shalas has been to provide education that is rooted in tribal culture and knowledge base, while exploring the horizon of the new and the unknown. Providing education that builds upon the sense of worth and dignity regarding tribal life is central to the notion of Jeevan Shalas. Jeevan Shalas have aspired to provide education that will equip tribal children to relate to their culture, not rejecting it, but preserving as well as creatively transforming it.

From "Ladenge Jeetenge, (We will fight, We will win)
To Seekhenge Baddhenge!" (We will learn, We will grow!)

Jeevan Shalas were born from peoples' struggle against the dam, forced displacement and exclusion of affected communities from the very decision making process that influences their lives. Given that the struggle has been central for the inception of Jeevan Shalas, and their very inspiration, these schools are essentially a place to nurture values generated by people's struggle. Jeevan Shala children have always participated in the struggle against the dam in their villages and outside. Children participate in the Satyagraha, dharna, March - be it in their village or in Bhopal, Mumbai, Dhule or Dhadgaon. There have been times when the Jeevan Shala shifted to the place of the protest, as learning to fight for one's rights is at the very heart of learning in Jeevan Shalas. In 1992 monsoon, children from Chimalkhedi Jeevan Shala refused to move out of their school when the Narmada waters began to rise. Children from Jalsindhi and Nimgavan Jeevan Shalas have taken out protest rallies to the police camps during the 1999- 2000 Satyagraha, questioning the officials and the policemen with confidence and courage.

The vision and the challenge

Preparation of curriculum that translates the vision and the spirit of the larger political struggle into education has been a difficult challenge. Teachers are extremely dedicated tribal youths who work hard to run schools with limited resources and daunting uncertainly. Working with the teachers to build an appropriate curriculum, helping the teachers to advance their skills and knowledge base, involving the community in the process of evolving and running the schools has not been easy. But with the support from innovative schools and organisations like Digantar, Eklavya, Srijan Anand, Akshar Nandan who have trained the Jeevan Shala teachers along with other individuals, institutions and trust who have generously provided resources, Jeevan Shalas have grown in their strength as well as their reach.

Building Jeevan Shala curriculum

Primacy to tribal languages, giving a legitimate space for child's mother tongue in the schools has emerged from the vision that guide the Jeevan Shalas. This year, in the Satyagraha 2000, two Pavri / Bhilali books were published by NBA. Prof. Naresh Dadhich from Inter University of Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and Sadhana Dadhich, close supporters of NBA from Pune released book "Amra Kanya" in Jalsindhi, on 6th August 2000, on the Peace day. While the other book, "Aksharan Olkhan" was released by Siddharaj ji Daddha, a veteran Sarvodayi from Jaipur on 15th of August during the Independence Day function in Nimgavan. Publication of these books has been a major step towards building the Jeevan Shala curriculum with active participation of community members including the teachers, in the tribal language.

"Amra Kanya" (Our Stories) is collection of 12 stories written by the Jeevan Shala teachers. Traditional story about 'Rani Kajol'- a tribal deity, passed on from generations orally has been written and included in the book. There are others like "Amro Jangal" (Our forest), "Adivasi Viyav" (Tribal wedding) that have been specially written up for the book, depicting rituals and practices in the tribal culture as well as their rich knowledge base regarding the natural resources that sustain their lives. 'Amro Jungle', written by Keval Sigh Guruji, describes rich variety of trees and plants in the forest, and knowledge about herbal plants and their medicinal use. The story also explores the intimate relationship between tribal culture and the forest. Traditional and newly written stories will serve as the first ever reading-material to tribal children in their own language. "Rojya Naik - Chima Naik" written by Khuman Singh Guruji provides a peek into history of Savariya village, during the colonial rule. Rojya and Chima Naik fought against the British rule, as many other Bhil Kings and warriors, who did not accept the colonial rule. The story underlines the need to rewrite history from subaltern perspective, for providing accurate picture of social - cultural history of a region. This is necessary not just for Bhil - Bhilala adivasi children, any one who wants to understand the history of comminutes and regions that have been excluded from dominant historical literature.

'Aksharan Olkhan' (Introducing alphabets) is a primer in Pavri and Bhilali, to facilitate reading writing in tribal mother tongues. Objects that are familiar to young children are always a sound basis of learning about unfamiliar things - like writing, for young children. Each alphabet / letter is introduced with the help of pictures of objects that are part of child's immediate environment (like trees, birds, fruits, musical instruments etc.). Various exercises that facilitate reading and writing, like recognising and matching patterns, drawing lines with different shapes and sizes, identify and list similar sounding words have also been introduced. While learning from prescribed textbooks, written in the regional languages like Marathi or Hindi - the child has to deal, not just with learning the alphabet, but also grasp words and objects that are often totally unfamiliar to a tribal child. This primer in Pavri and Bhilali hopes to make reading-writing more enjoyable and meaningful to first generation Bhil-Bhilala learners in the Narmada valley.

Teacher development initiatives

Apart from the monthly meetings, which is regular feature and forum for Jeevan Shala teachers to meet, share and discuss emerging issues and problems. Other that these monthly meets, two Teacher training programs were planned.

Visiting Digantar : In 1999 December, 5 teachers and 2 coordinators went to Digantar, near Jaipur. Digantar is a well known innovative schools started by Rohit Dhankar. There are 3 schools of Digantar in the rural area on the outskirts of Jaipur. Digantar teachers had visited Jeevan Shalas in 1997 January. This Interaction was found inspiring and enriching for Jeevan Shala and Digantar teachers and hence actual visit to Digantar was planned. Teachers had an opportunity to see way in which classroom are organised, individual and group work as per child's ability is planned and executed, see the teaching learning material and get exposure to alternative educational set up.

Training in Toran maal : In May 2000, a training program was organized in Toran maal for all the Jeevan Shala teachers. Two resource persons were invited from 'Prachiti', a Pune based organization. Rajesjwari Dighe from Prachiti has lot of experience in training primary teachers who work in the Sakhar Shala (6 month schools run near Sugar factories in Maharashtra). She focused her presentation on how to introduce reading-writing for beginning learners. Identifying and nurturing necessary skills of listening, talking, reading and writing, charting out the component skills, organizing class room teaching and evaluation according to those skills. Amrita Patwardhan from Pune along with Geeta, Shobha and Hiraman Jadhav of Malegao helped the teachers plan their academic year. Early literacy and pre-literacy activities were demonstrated. Ground work for preparing a primer in Pavri was done during this meeting. Orientation was given to new teachers with the help of experienced teachers through group discussions and lectures. Jeevan Shala's stand on Maharashtra government's decision to introduce English from grade one was discussed.

Geeta and Vasant Guruji of Nimgavan Jeevan Shala made a presentation on Jeevan Shslas in Bal Vividha program organised by Avehi in Mumbai, addressing issues regarding integration and its challenges. Their presentation was received well and generated interest in tribal education and its special concerns.

Village committee : Role and participation

Villages committees constituted of men and women from the village are expected to help the teachers with administrational matters as well as keep a check on the schools activities. Though the role of these committees is vital as an avenue for school and villagers to interact and play a jointly constructive role in running schools, village committees have not been very active in many villages. In each village, 2 to 4 villagers however, played an active role in supporting the teachers and linking the schools to the comunity at alrge. A need was felt to strengthen these committees. Keshav Vasave (Nimagavan), Vesta Pavra (Sikka), Bava Mahariya (Jalsindhi), Anajya Pavra (Tinis maal), Noorji Padvi (Danel), Dadlya Karbhari (Domkhedi), Ranglya Karbhari (Kumbri), Geeta, Shobha and Hiraman bhau along with Giridhar Guruji and Bute Singh, two senior teachers will visit all the Jeevan Shala villages.

Brief overview activities in the year 2000

With the resolve to challenge the rising waters due to the Sardar Sarovar dam, monsoon of this year was time of uncertainly, but strength and determination. This year the Satyagraha had it's special focus on Navnirman (reconstruction), along with the struggle. Children of the Jeevan Shalas, as always actively participated in various activities organised during the Satyagraha. At present there are ten Jeevan Shalas running in the Narmada Valley. Seven are residential schools while three are day schools. Like the years before, Narmada Bachao Andolan has been running these schools with the help of Lok Samitee Malegaon. Along with the school teachers two full time activists of NBA, Geeta and Shobha who have a DEd. Degree (education / teaching) are helping in coordinating, supervising the schools and providing necessary assistance.

During the Satyagraha of 2000, Jeevan Shalas remained centre of attraction for visiting Satyagrahis who came from all over the country. They were happy to witness this constructive activity, articulation of vision by our teachers, children's participation in extra curricular activies including the struggle. Some of them guided children in drwaning, painting, origamy and such activities. There were some programs organised, especially for children.

Peace day in the Narmada Valley - 6th August, 2000 : This day was celebrated in a special function at Domkhedi. Over 200 children, parents and teachers of Nimgavan, Jalsindhi, Bharad, Tinismaal, Kumbri, Turkheda, Savrya Digar participated in the Peace day celebration. Immense destruction caused by an atomic bomb is one of the most ugly form misuse of scientific invention. Children of Jeevan Shalas presented a skit, listened to the story of Sadako and made 'peace birds'. Photo exhibition of the effects of the bomb in Hiroshima, Nagasaki made the images of destruction and unjustifiable human misery alive in front of the children. That only strengthened their resolve to work towards a world where bombs or dams will not destroy or uproot people, but where living in harmony with the nature and other living beings would be valued and nurtured.

Independence day - 15th August 2000 : Independence Day was celebrated in Nimgavan Jeevan Shala, saying 'Ye azadi adhuri hai, Aur ek jang jaroori hai' (this independence is incomplete, one more battle is necessary). Veteran Sarvodayi leader Sidhharaj Daddha was present on this function along with several supporters from various parts of the country and abroad. Flags of India as well as "Our village, Our rule" were hoisted. Along with protecting the motherland our country, it is equally important to protect the ancestral homeland of this tribal community. About 300-400 children from different schools gathered, publicly questioning 2 government school teachers who prepare false records, collect salaries, but do not run schools. Jeevan Shala children who are successfully continuing their studies in Malegao, Dhule, Bordi were felicitated.

"Power" in people's hands : With the help and initiative of friends from Association for India's Development, Ravi Kuchimanchi and Aravinda, people are able to produce electricity for their own use. These peddle power units are designed at IIT Mumbai and improvised with the help of Michael Majgaokar. Tribal villages have no access to electricity after 53 years of independence. By peddling the cycle for 15 minutes one can produce enough electricity to light one CFL bulb for 1 hour. Peddle power initially put in the Satyagraha hut has subsequently been installed in Nimgavan, Jalsindhi and other Jeevan Shalas, enabling children to generate electricity for themselves.

Martyr's day - 9th August, 2000 : Tribal martyrs and revolutionaries who died for bringing in social change, resisting injustice instead of agreeing to succumb to it were remembered with respect on the martyr's day in Jalsindhi, Their contribution to tribal life, culture and history was remembered in order to derive inspiration to face the new challenges of the present. Respectful homage was paid to older martyrs like Birsa Munda, Khajya Naik, Bhima Naik along with Rehmal (15 yr adolescent from village Surung) who lost his life in police firing in Chinchkhedi in 1993.

Children have been indirectly part of other attempts of reconstruction in the valley in terms of setting up a micro hydle in Domkhedi, water shed training in the villages, health surveys and selling forest produce at a reasonable rate etc. During the Public Hearing on 24th August children exhibited herbal plants collected and by them along with clay toys and small mud sculptures.

Areas that need to be focused on in the coming days

  • Strengthening the village committees
  • Increasing participation of girl children in schools and improve their retention

Number of children in different Jeevan Shalas (June 2000)

Jeevan Shala Boys Girls Total
Manibeli 113 14 127
Tinismaal 75 45 120
Savrya Digar 86 15 101
Nimgavan 148 29 177
Danel 44 6 50
Gaman 31 9 40
Jalsindhi 34 8 42
Bharad 50 15 65
Kumbri 38 26 64
Turkheda 25 - 25
Total 644 167 811