The Kids Are Gonna Be Alright!!
Melghat is a forested tract known for Tiger reserves, Satpura hills, vast lands, and its tribal population mainly consisting of Korkus. Apart from Tiger reserves, Melghat remains in the news for all the wrong reasons; malnutrition, rampaging poverty, illiteracy, and high dropout rates. It will not be an exaggeration to say that it is one of the most deprived and backward regions in Maharashtra in terms of progress and the socioeconomic conditions of its people. The state of education in this area remains depressing at best. There lies an extreme polarity between the state-mandated policies and their reach and access to the local people.
One Koraku student says, “we speak Koraku, but books are in Marathi, and our teachers teach in Hindi”. More often than not, the resources and scope of opportunities don’t reach the people from marginalised backgrounds, and as a consequence, their goals get limited. Modernization in our society comes at the cost of Indigenous people and their lands.
In such grim conditions of life, from time to time, there emerges someone like Raju Kendre or Ramesh Maviskar who, instead of waiting for policy interventions, work on the grounds and dedicate themselves to the cause of people. Ramesh Maviskar has been working with Korku students for at least the past ten years. He is the quintessential thread serving the noble pursuit of education; he stands between aspirational children who want to study and barriers to their dreams like financial troubles, parental control, etc. He walks from door to door, convincing parents and agreeing to take the whole responsibility for students’ well-being.
Raju Kendre, now a well-known name in the Indian education sector, started working in Melghat with school children to prevent drop-out rates and educate as many as possible. With this goal, he started the Eklavya India Movement that caters to students from backward groups, providing them access to quality education in the premier higher educational institutes of the country. Eklavya bridges the gap between marginalised groups and the entry barriers for these students.
At present, Eklaya has been functioning for more than six years, having trained and sent more than 350 students to the country's premier educational institutes. In the batch of 2022 alone, at least 65 of our students have cleared complex entrance tests of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Azim Premji University (APU). For the last three years, Eklaya has been home to 30 students from Melghat. These students are pursuing Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) from Savitri-Jotirao Institute of Social Work Pune. Making a transition from Melghat to Yavatmal was a giant leap for these students. It has been an amazing experience seeing a city like Yavatmal. Coming from the remotest areas, their dreams are no less. To hone their talents, aspirations, and leadership skills – Eklavya organised an Aspirational Study Tour of 22 Students from the Korku tribe of Melghat to Pune. Pune is the educational and cultural capital of Maharashtra, which hosts the flux of so many cultural traditions and the best institutes in the country.
The journey began in Pune from the Phule Wada, residence of Savitri and Jotiba Phule, now turned into a memorial. Rajesh, a student from the trip reminisces, “We felt like guests as if invited by the Phules themselves”. In the course of 3 days in Pune, we visited several prominent colleges. From round table discussions with students at SP College to understanding the history and legacy of Fergusson College, Pune. Multiple events and interactions were held at Modern College, Karve Institute of Social Work, Marathwada Mitra Mandal, Ranade Institute of Journalism, and Savitribai Phule Pune University. We ended the journey at Pune by watching Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund. After Pune, along with our students, we moved to visit the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Tuljapur campus. It’s a place many students dream of, it was important to show them a glimpse of their dreams materialising.
One of the outcomes of the visits was the flow of interactions between the students and faculties of every college. The senior faculty and teachers interacted with students and claimed to open the doors for our students. Through such initiatives, we want to make education possible. For students, it is necessary to break artificial barriers mired in misconceptions and prejudices. Dr. Shruti Tambe, Head of the Department of Sociology at SPPU wrote: “Now it is confirmed that the ban of knowledge will not be successful. Your fierce intelligence, determination, and hard work will make you fly, that is for sure.”
Of course, it does not take much– it’s just the beginning of something. One mole cannot make the hill, although it can try to spread its greenery. Long term goal is of course to create such an ecosystem where more and more students from a multitude of backgrounds and differences will make their foray into public institutions, and universities and claim these spaces. There are things only these Adivasi students can understand, and I think it's time they get their due to shine and thrive. At Shaniwar Wada, one of our students role-playing as a Peshwa or King, proclaimed "there shall never be a dearth of water problems in this kingdom". For such a long-term goal, Eklavya recognises the entry barriers and tries to provide only a bridge for such students so they can raise and represent their problems in their own language.
About the author:- Susmit has a Master's Degree from IIT Madras. He is passionate about the culture, environment, education, and rights of the Dalit and Adivasi communities. Currently, he is working with Eklavya India Movement.