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Growing Tribe

IT is rare for a politician to give even partial credit to an educational institution for an electoral victory, especially an institution th...

Written by HARTOSH SINGH BAL | Bhopal |
January 18, 2004

IT is rare for a politician to give even partial credit to an educational institution for an electoral victory, especially an institution that chooses to deny any political or social affiliation. But when HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi was asked about the BJP victory in the recent Assembly elections, he said, ‘‘An important factor, which few people have taken into account, is the work done by the Vanvasi Kalyan Manch and the Friends of Tribals Society in the Adivasi areas. Work had been going on but it’s matured now.’’

So it comes as no surprise that close on the heels of the BJP victory, having picked Hema Malini as its brand ambassador, the Friends of Tribal Society or the Vanbandhu Parishad has just opened its Bhopal chapter. With over 1,500 Ekal Vidyalyas already operating in the tribal areas of MP, the organisation plans to add another 500 over the next year.

Strangely enough the president of the organisation Rameshwar Kabra and former president P.D. Chitlangia began their press conference in Bhopal by denying any links with the Sangh Parivar. Apart from Joshi’s endorsement, it was a strange position to take when the RSS’ Vishwa Samvad Kendra had sent out an invite for the function, clearly stating that the Vanbandhu Parishad was an organisation affiliated with the Sewa Bharti wing of the RSS.

The FTS began its work in 1989 but was restricted to Jharkand till 1998. It is only since then that it has spread to Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Just in Madhya Pradesh alone, the FTS has as of today a 1020 Ekal Vidyalyas operating in the predominantly Bhil areas of Madhya Bharat and another 720 in the predominantly Gond areas of Mahakaushal.

The idea behind the Ekal Vidyalya (EV) is simple. In the FTS’ own words, ‘‘One person from a tribal village is selected and trained as a teacher (Acharya). He/She devotes 3 hours for teaching 35/40 students in the village as per syllabus, age group 5 to 12 years, each day, 365 days a year.’’ The funding for the EV is raised by the FTS through donations, and costs are kept low. Each EV costs just Rs 10,000 a year to run. The school is monitored by a local village committee which itself selects the Acharya who is then trained by the FTS. The curriculum is basic, literacy in the language of the state and more controversially, modelled somewhat on moral science classes of missionary schools, the teaching of ‘‘acchhe sanskar(good manners/conduct/belief)’’ to the children.

The sanskars clearly derive from the Hindu tradition even in areas which stand outside this tradition. This is being done even in areas where the tribals themselves claim an identity divorced from Hinduism, such as the Gonds of MP. The thrust is not obtrusive but some examples from the FTS own manual for teachers are illustrative.

Among the material required to be provided to every student are ‘‘Maan Saraswati/Bharat mata ka chitra. Mahapurushon aur devi devtaon ke chitra. Om chitra.’’ The days on which special functions are organised include Ramnaumi and Janamashtmi, festivals unknown in the Gond areas. The same thread runs through the teaching of other subjects. Take for example an exercise prescribed for the teaching of multiplication tables termed ‘Shriram’, ‘‘Start counting from 1. Recite every multiple of 3 along with the word Shriram. With enough practice drop the number itself and just say Shriram. The same thing can be done with the other multiplication tables.’’

Perhaps it was this that has led Joshi to ascribe a role to the FTS in the BJP’s electoral victory. But perhaps more crucial is the coordination of the activities of this society with the work being done by other Sangh affiliates in the tribal areas. This again, despite disavowals, is clearly spelt out in the literature provided by the FTS itself, ‘‘The growth of this programme has become possible through the hard work of workers from several social and religious organisations such as Sewa Bharti, Vishwa Hindu Praishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vidya Bharti, Vivekananda Kendra, Gayatri Parivar, Swadhyay Parivar, Swami Narayan Sampraday, Chinamaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission etc.’’

Thus, it’s no surprise that the Ekal Vidyalya programme has the blessings, again quoting from the FTS’ won literature, of among others Sadhvi Rithambra and Acharya Dharamendra.

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