Empowering underprivileged children through education

SAFE ENVIRONS: Children from Meghalaya and Manipur at JSS School in Suttur.

SAFE ENVIRONS: Children from Meghalaya and Manipur at JSS School in Suttur.   | Photo Credit: — PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

Muralidhara Khajane

JSS School at Suttur provides free education to children from rural areas

SUTTUR (MYSORE DISTRICT): Lahkumeen (13) of Jowai region in Meghalaya, who is studying in the sixth standard at JSS School of Suttur Math, sings the Vachanas of the Sharanas fluently in a mellifluous voice. Her perfect Kannada diction makes it hard to believe that she is from the north-east region.

Lahkumeen came to Karnataka three years ago as she could not continue her studies because of the disturbances in Meghalaya following the divide between tribal people and non-tribal settlers, and due to identity issues. She is happy now, as she is confident of realising her dream of becoming a cardiologist.

The story of Nivedita (15), who came to Suttur from Manipur two years ago, is no different. Nivedita, now studying in the 10th standard, wants to pursue her career in English literature. She wants to become a writer. She could not continue her education because of the disturbances in her native land created by armed insurgent groups demanding an independent homeland.

Similar are the stories of over 90 girls who have come to Suttur for studies from Meghalaya and Manipur. Besides the socio-political problems that exist in the north-east region, religious conversion has forced the tribal girls to migrate to Karnataka, according to the school authorities. Now these girls are studying in this school without losing their identities.

JSS School at Suttur is a unique institution of the Jagadguru Sri Shivarathreeshwara Maha Vidya Peeta (JSSMVP) providing free education to children from rural areas. The children are mainly from Karnataka while some have come from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Manipur.

According to JSSMVP chief coordinator Subbanna, children in the residential school belong to all religions, cast, creed and sect.

The selection criteria for the children are — poverty and backwardness of the area. Preference is being given to children from drought-prone areas and children with no parents or single parents. The school extends academic education from nursery to 10th standard, besides training them in creative activities such as drawing, painting, pottery, dance, theatre, puppetry and music. It also imparts vocational skills such as tailoring, housekeeping, gardening, cooking and farming, he says.

The school built on a 60-acre land at a cost of Rs. 7 crore a few years ago has 70 classrooms, a library, laboratories, an open air auditorium, an administrative block and a playground. Over 80 teachers with good academic background impart education to over 3,500 children. There are well-equipped hostels for boys and girls, and over 800 girl students live at the hostel which started functioning in July 2008.

Do the girls from the north-east suffer from homesickness or face any problem in learning the local language and mingling with local children? “No”, says Assistant coordinator G.L. Tripurantak. “They learnt Kannada without any problem and now they sing Vachanas as well as the local people do. Their parents visit Suttur once in a year to spend time with their children. As they do not want to take their children back to a trouble-ridden land, we are taking care of the girls even during the summer holidays,” he says.

The institution is taking enough precautions before admitting children to the school. “It is important for us to know about those who bring these girls from distant Meghalaya and Manipur. We admit children brought by non-governmental organisations with credentials. We extend them liberty to follow their own religion. Many Christian and Muslim students study in our school,” Mr. Subbanna says.

Most of the girls now speak fluent Kannada, which they have learnt from their friends. “These girls have made Karnataka their home now,” he says.

Mr. Subbanna says that the goal of the school is to improve the life of children from rural families, to empower the underprivileged through education and to make them employable to help them to lead a dignified and decent life.

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