Classes are held under a tree; no noon meals served since April 25
“Can you write your name?” Little Dharamveer from class five answered with an emphatic “yes.” But the very next question stumped him. “Can you write your father’s name?” He couldn’t, he said shyly, in the presence of his teacher.
Dharamveer’s school runs under a tree. Pupils from class one to five gather at 7 a.m. for their daily dose of ‘schooling.’
The State government-run elementary school is located in the mushahar tola (a Dalit quarter) of Nonfarwa village in Bihar’s East Champaran district. The plot where the school is run belongs to an agricultural forum. In the absence of a building, the department has allowed it to use a soot-laden room for cooking noon meals.
“The officials say this is government land. Yahan par koi padhai nahi hogi [There will be no teaching here]. Get going,” Lalu Manji, a labourer said.
“A total of 122 students are on the rolls, but only about 60-70 actually attend classes. When mid-day meals are served, the figure crosses 100,” Mohammad Shakeel Ansari, the school teacher told The Hindu . When there are no meals, the attendance dwindles and even school hours are shortened. “It is not advisable to keep the children till noon if meals are not served,” Mr. Ansari reasoned.
Mr. Ansari said the noon meal had not been served since April 25. “We have not been receiving any rice, so no meal has been cooked,” the teacher said.
A village resident telephoned Anita Kumari of the Block Resource Centre — the “khichdi in-charge” as she is locally called. Asked why there was no meal being served, she told The Hindu , “We were busy in data entry so we could not find the time to take the supply of rice. We will do it on May 10.”
A cold coal-fuelled mud stove and empty vessels inside the room indicate no fires have been lit for a long time. A yellow board displaying the name of the school under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) lies in dust atop a cabinet of condiments. It is hurriedly dismounted for the purpose of a photograph.
The Education Department recently invited villages to provide land for school buildings. However, the proposal means nothing for the mushahar tola , where the majority are landless labourers.
The tola of around 500 people has seen only one graduate so far and just two “matric-pass” males, who happen to be brothers of the male graduate. In the nearby dhangad tola (another Dalit quarter) no children go to school and almost all get married off while they are underage.