Seventy Ho families are running a primary school for their children at Kalaita village deep inside Jharkhand’s Saranda forest

Deep inside the Saranda forest in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, seventy Ho adivasi families in Kalaita village have built and are running a primary school that is now attended by children from their village and five other nearby villages.

In 2002, the villagers pooled in material and contributed their labour to construct the mud and wood structure, which is divided into two parts to hold classes from 1 to V. There are 115 children who attend this school, including those who come from Jambaiburu, Dharnadiri, Sagwanberha, Balehatu and Mirchigarha villages.

“Initially, Savitri Alda, an adivasi girl from Kalaita who had studied till class X, volunteered to teach the village children here. But she got married and left a few years back. Then the villagers approached the block officer in Naomundi for help. The officials recognised the school and appointed three para-teachers, including me. Two of us teach here now,” said Manju Birva, a para-teacher at the Kalaita primary school.

In 2012, the Steel Authority of India (SAIL), which has been operating an iron ore mine in Kiriburu, 25 km from the village, since the 1970s, announced that it will appoint more para-teachers as per the school’s requirements. It has started a bus service for Ms. Birva and other teachers from three villages nearby, as part of its corporate social responsibility activities. “After the panchayat elections in 2010, we requested Parvati Kiro — the new panchayat mukhiya and she helped organise this bus from SAIL,” said Ms. Birva.

Kalaita is one of over 100 “Jharkhandi villages” in the area which were settled by adivasis from nearby districts during the 1980s when led by Devendra Manjhi, they launched a movement against government restrictions on use of forest produce and to oppose the Forest Department’s planting teak in this sal forest. Though it was made part of Naomundi block in 2009 and the administration has since given forest pattas to villagers, “Jharkhandi villages” are not yet recognised as revenue villages by the Jharkhand government. The village lies 20 km from Thalkobad, one of the 56 villages in six panchayats that are the focus of the Rs. 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) launched by the Union Ministry of Rural Development in 2011 for implementing government schemes in areas that were under Maoist-rule till 2010 but is not included in the SDP.

“After the village was included as part of Naomundi in 2009, the villagers made several rounds of the block office for help with improving the school building, adding a concrete roof, for a new blackboard. The officials helped with getting new teachers though there are still improvements required in the school building,” said Parvati Kiro, who was elected mukhiya when panchayat elections were held in Jharkhand villages in 2010 after a gap of 32 years.

Most of the 70 adivasi families in Kalaita work for SAIL contractors: carrying sand for two-three months of the year in Kiriburu or by selling sal daatun (toothbrushes) which sell for Rs. 5 a piece in the Kiriburu market.

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