EKAL SCHOOLS: LESSONS WITH A SAFFRON HUE
NRI-funded schools imparting 'traditional value education' are sprouting up all
over tribal India
New Delhi, January 29, 2001
Ram mandir and Hindu Rashtra may be the immediate catchwords for the Sangh Parivar for the forthcoming Assembly elections, but this is not the lone agenda for which the saffron brigade seems to be working. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is not just wooing the mainstream, but is also making inroads into the tribal belts of India. The killing of missionary Graham Staines in Orissa in a most horrific manner as a statement of tribal resistance to western influence may have been a singular incident. The approach taken by the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India (EVFI), an organisation with obvious Sangh sympathies, of changing the tribal
mindset is a more sustained process.
At a glance, some prominent trustees on the board of the EVFI are B K Modi, founder chairperson ModiCorp; Justice P N Bhagawat, former chief justice, Supreme Court; Dr L M Singhvi, MP and former ambassador to UK; Dr Abid Hussain, former ambassador to US and member of the Constitution Review Committee; Sadhvi Bhagwati, international director (youth education), Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh; several NRIs, and a whole host of top brass of the ModiCorp and Modi Foundation.
The EVFI is supposedly a non-government, non-profit organization, and is registered as a trust. The main objective of the foundation is to help in the "overall development of remote tribal villages".
Interestingly, the EVFI also has a branch in the US. The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, along with home-bred organisations, are committed to create a "people's movement involving thousands of selfless dedicated Indians, NRIs and other people of Indian origin, in order to wean children of remote tribal areas of India away from illiteracy, and consequently superstition, exploitation, ill-health, poverty and crime," said sources.
The EVFI offers five years of free schooling for children, especially in the tribal belts of India. A typical class has around 30-40 children in the age group of four-15 years, and is often conducted in rural environs. All study materials are provided free of cost.
Although the EVFI website has a large portrait of poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore, obviously referring to his "nature is our teacher" philosophy, there is not any pertinent information on the syllabus taught. The EVFI apparently imparts "basic
alphabetic and numeric knowledge, health and hygiene, character-building and moral
values" and "sanskaars", whatever that may mean.
As teachers, the EVFI appoints locally educated youths (generally those who have only studied till high school) who are "specially trained" to become key figures and catalysts of change and "character building" for the entire village or area. Besides, the schools are also supposed to conduct health camps, cleanliness drives and
environment awareness programmes among rural tribals.
Classes are more like informal teaching sessions comprising katha (story-telling sessions), natak (dramas), lok-geet (folk songs), and pravachan (religious discourses).
State-wise distribution of EVFI schools
State August 2001 March 2002 (Est) August 2002 (Est)
North East 660 690 960
West Bengal 325 325 540
Orissa 510 510 600
Bihar 270 450 450
Jharkhand 720 970 1060
Uttar Pradesh 420 715 1150
North Zone 120 450 600
Rajasthan 240 480 780
Gujarat 300 390 570
Maharashtra 450 630 930
Madhya Pradesh 1140 2370 2880
Chhatisgarh 660 1260 1530
Andhra Pradesh 540 1000 1080
Karnataka 60 240 360
Tamil Nadu 180 240 270
Kerala 90 180 240
Total 6685 11100 14000
The US wing of the group estimates that it only costs $365 to run an Ekal Vidyalaya for a whole year.
Non government organisations (NGO) that have been identified to help set up more EVFIs are the Birsa Seva Prakalpa in Bihar, Bharatiya Jan Seva Sansthan in Rajasthan and Swami Vivekananda Cultural Society in Tamil Nadu.
Some 3,000 schools are being run by NGOs like the Friends of Tribal Society, Bhartiya Kalyan Pratishthan, Bhartiya Lok Shiksha Parishad, Bhartiya Jan Sewa Sansthan and Janhitay in the states of Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal.
At present, the EVFI enjoys the status of a charitable trust. Donations to EVFI are 50 per cent tax exempt. It has even received Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) permission to receive donations in foreign exchange on actual receipt basis.
Funds from the US are obviously a big asset for the group. In fact, the mission of
the ECFI and the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA is to set up 100,000 Ekal Vidya Mandirs in the remote tribal villages by the year 2010. Imparting sanskar and moral values should then be easier for the saffron brigade, once its movement gains ground.
MARRIAGES ARE MADE IN HEAVEN? (http://www.jaalmag.com/archives/01051999/slangmatch.htm)
Sumit thought an arranged marriage would buy him the heavens. Steaming cup of tea in the morning, hot chapatis off the tawa, hot meals in a lunchbox, clothes washed and laundered, house cleaned and … all that. Besides, of course, the proverbial amount of gold and cash that an arranged marriage is supposed to supply to a man's coffers. But lo and behold, what he got could described by some as a rough deal in the hands of- no, not nature or God - but his wifey dear.
Barring tea and an occasional toast thrown alongside the cup containing an insipid brown beverage, Manisha had no skill or patience for any culinary capers. She declared within a first few days of their familiarisation programme that she would rather spend her time eating out, watching TV, wear expensive clothes and shop in abundance. Housework is to be done only those who are "backward-minded", "unsmart" or "uneducated". After all, Sumit had settled for a convent-educated wife who spoke English and wore Western clothes, had he not? She had also brought in enough cash and kind to keep the family financially solvent for several years to come. For Sumit, arranged marriage had been robbed of all its relevance. Grapes that had gone sour.
Well, all stories are not told in the same manner. Pranjal and Sweta had a love marriage, but Sweta ends up doing all household chores simply because, they stay with Pranjal's parents. "I really don't think there is any difference I have made to my life by opting for a marriage of my choice," she said with bitterness, "I am cooking, washing, cleaning even if I have to put in as much energy and time at my workplace. How am I leading a different life anyway?" Pranjal seems to be caught between the Devil and the deep sea, wishing to mitigate his wife's sorrows and at the same time, not eager to leave his parents' house.
Daily chores apart, does this notion of arranged and love marriage make any difference to the quality of relationship shared by the husband and the wife? A good number of traditionally married couples stress that nothing is amiss in the relationship. They court each other after marriage, in fact without any fear of shame or embarrassment, which is very often looming large on courting couples before their marriage. The newly married pair is often sent off by the family for a royal honeymoon. They don't get caught sneaking inside a park or don't have to walk the roads in search of a place to sit and utter sweet nothings.
Sangeeta and Ashim were packed off by Sangeeta's parents to (hold your breath) Mauritius where they wear they had a swell time. A tension-free co-existence where no one's even heard of being chased by the local policewallah from park to park, being glared at by one's neighbour in the cinema hall for having held hands, or even those pangs of break ups that are constant miseries of couples supposedly in love. "We wrote each other real passionate love letters, bummed around like teenagers, holidayed like never before and did all kind of things for which I had no time. And my wife and I are happy that my family is around with us to look after our needs when we need help. It could have been bad otherwise," proclaimed Shishir, a busy Infotech executive.
Reena, married after two years of courtship, feels that somehow the fun and naughty element of the relationship has subsided. They do not go out as often, rarely eat out, sleep off as soon as they hit the bed, even do not have time to chat much after an arduous day at work. "May be in an arranged marriage I would have had the chance to explore the conjugal relationship and make it livelier than it is now," she rues.
"Arranged marriage vs love marriage is no longer the issue," said a couple. It is lifestyle and the way you choose to lead it, that matters, they maintain. It is like choosing a package, a gift you give yourself. "One either chooses the glitter or the drudgery, and consciously, for there is always the option of rejecting a structure given the fact that both men and women today are aware of their demands," philosophises Andy. Well, he is a bachelor who at the moment is courting nature with his camera. We shall soon see.
Talks useless until Indian troops are withdrawn: Lashkar mentor
On the eve of the forthcoming Indo-Pakistan summit in Agra, Lashkar-e-Toiba big daddy Prof Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has, in a scathing albeit sarcasm-laden editorial in the outfit's Website, criticised the Indian leadership and exhorted the Pakistani President to represent Muslims of the subcontinent, says Nabina Das (www.tehelka.com, July 11, 2001)
On the eve of Agra Summit between India and Pakistan, the Lashkar-e Toiba ('literally the Army of the Pure), one of the dreaded separatist outfits involved in jehad (freedom struggle) for an independent Kashmir, has exhorted Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to look at the reality of Kashmir and the struggle of the Kashmiris for the past 12 years. The group has also lashed out at India for not attempting to withdraw its troops from Kashmir which it says would mar the atmosphere of the talks. The Lashkar big daddy Prof Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has in fact, come out with a scathing albeit sarcasm-laden editorial in the outfit's Website Markaz Ad Da'wah Wal Irshad (www.markazdawa.org) criticising and advising the forthcoming Indo-Pakistan summit.
The Lashkar-e-Toiba believes that jehad is the be-all and end-all of a true Muslim's life and quotes a Hadith in Sahih Muslim, where Prophet Mohammad, while illustrating the attribute of true believers, said, "This religion will outlive forever and for the sake of it, a class out of Muslims will continue Jihad until the dawn of the Doomsday." This, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of this dreaded separatist group which is well known for their fidayeen (suicide) missions against the Indian state in Kashmir.
The group, in it website, clearly spelling out its strategy and denouncing the Indian state in the strongest of terms, vows that the Lashkar Mujahideen (freedom fighters) will do everything to fail the activities of the Indian army on the eve of the forthcoming talks between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
In the Editorial titled "The Trap of US-sponsored talks has once again been set to cover up atrocities of Indian army in Kashmir", Prof Saeed, mentor of the extremist group that mostly draws its cadre from non-Kashmiris - Afghans, Pakhtoons and Central Asians - says, "We want General Pervez Musharraf to realise that the country is today at a very crucial juncture. One of the ways leads to freedom, not only of Kashmir but also of the entire Pakistan. If he understands the anatomy of Kashmir Jihad then he must also be aware of the fact that this is the only highway leading to freedom. Jihad will liberate us from all fetters of slavery. At the moment Pakistan is not a free country. There is so much pressure on it from all sides."
Under the section Voice of Islam, the smooth-talking Prof Saeed spins a tale of Kashmiri suffering vis-à-vis Indian oppression with an aim to strike at the jehadi mentality. He tells a story about parents and relatives, including a large number of women, of martyred jehadis who had recently gathered in Lahore. All of them were all concerned over the recent developments with respect to Kashmir problem and were keen to know the outcome of the upcoming talks. Several wondered whether they should write to President Musharraf to inform him of their feelings and misgivings, writes Prof Saeed.
Very dramatically, Prof Hafiz Saeed writes, "The young men (jehadis) have gone to Kashmir after hearing the tales of Indian atrocities. They heard that Muslim sisters are being dishonoured. And they sacrificed their lives to live up to their relationship with their sisters and brothers in Islam. And even their bodies did not return to Pakistan, their mothers could not get their last glimpse. They just got the news of their martyrdom and said 'alhamdulillah' and shed no tears. I have seen the mothers of martyrs bear their sons' martyrdom with fortitude. The number of martyrs both in Pakistan and Kashmir is in thousands. They are all tied together in the bond of Islam." (Talks useless until Indian troops are withdrawn: Lashkar mentor www.tehelka.com, July 11, 2001)
About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das
"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).