Infusing the Santhali Element in Schooling by Rina Mukherji

Santal village near Santiniketan >>
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[…] “Santhal children are compelled to leave behind the culture they grew up in , whenever they go in for modern education and learning the rudiments of the three r’s. It results in their loss of confidence, and utter confusion as regards their identity. We felt it was important that they studied in the Santhali medium, at least in the initial stages and remained close to their basic culture of song and dance to develop the necessary confidence which would equip them better to go ahead in life.”

Besides, no history book ever told students of the Adivasi contribution to national life, of the Santhal rebellion or heroes. Even Santhal students learnt of the Santhal rebellion against the British Raj as a mere footnote in history. “This was what we strove to correct, and restore Santhal pride in their culture and existence.” […]

Following completion of their Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from Vishwabharati University, Baski and Hansda embarked on a mission to formulate a more relevant and realistic system of primary education for rural Santhali children.

“ We visited schools in Darjeeling, Kolkata, Pondicherry, and even attended the barefoot teachers’ training course in 1993-94 at Loreto Day School , Sealdah, Kolkata.”

The result of all this research culminated in the setting up of the Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram in Ghoshaldanga village of Birbhum district in 1996. In this, Sona Murmu’s friendship with the noted German writer and Indologist who has made Shantiniketan his home for many years now, namely Dr Martin Kaempchen , helped to spread the word around, bringing much-needed funds and the physical support and contribution of friends from India and abroad, including the German consulate. The contribution made by German scientist (late ) Dr Rolf Schoembs was largely instrumental in helping set up the school-and having its founders name the school after him in grateful acknowledgement.

Sociologist Prof Kumkum Bhattacharya, who had taught Baski and Hansda at Vishwabharati , and her anthropologist husband Ranjit Bhattacharya from the Anthropological Survey of India, also chipped in with their wholehearted support for the school. The school also received much-needed guidance from friend and noted educatioist Mary Ann Dasgupta in drafting the right syllabus.

The vehicle for this non-formal school was obviously the Ghoshaldanga Adivasi Seva Sangha that had been established in 1986 by Sona Murmu, the first Santhali student to clear his Madhyamik exams from his village.

In its earlier days, the work of the Trust was confined to running a night school in Ghoshaldanga village, and helping shift the sick to hospital. […]

The most significant aspect of the Vidyashram is that the 80 children on its rolls learn everything in Santhali using the Bengali alphabet. The alphabet book is bilinjgual, with every Santhali word written alongside its Bengali counterpart-thus you have Dadu (grandfather) explained in Santhali as Gadam Baba., and Naach (dance) alongside the Santhali Enech.

Unlike government primary schools, every child learns to draw and sculpt with his /her tender hands as is akin to Santhali culture. Dance and music is an intrinsic part of the curriculum. Every child gets to learn Santhali folk songs and rhymes and gets introduced to the Santhali idiom that is so much a part of the heritage through school primers. The oral history of the Santhals is introduced to the children through folk songs on the Hul
( Santhal rebellion) and every child learns of the exploits of Siddhu, Kanhu and Dahar through these primers. Additionally, there are several rhymes composed by Boro Baski that teach the children the rudiments of hygiene, as also the prevention and cure of common ailments like diarrhoea, headache, coughs and colds, malaria and the like.

The love of nature, the simplicity of Santhal life and the appreciation of music and dance emerge quite strongly from these songs and rhymes clubbed together under the name-Bansir Sure Gaan Kori (I sing to the tune of the flute). The themes are themselves revealing- Chora Roddur (High noon), Shiyal Bhaya(Brother jackal), Morog dilo daak (The cock crows), Chalo bhai haato (Come on brother, let’s walk), Til shorshe (Sesame mustard) Phota Phul (Flowers in full bloom).

Savour some of these folk songs collected by Boro Baski:

An elder sister tells her younger sister:

Sister, don’t play
On the dusty path
You’ve just taken your bath!
Look, Ma takes the dishes away,
She’ll take you along, if you play.
She’ll give you another bath,
And you’ll cry on the dusty path.


A boy tells his mother:

Mother dear, I took the cattle to graze
And played my flute in the kill grove.
My flute is there still.

Mother dear, keep the rice on my plate,
Do wait till I fetch my flute,
Then I’ll eat to my fill.


A wife tells her husband:

When you go to your in-laws, remember
With a pot of rice beer on your head,
Remember, beloved, my sweet parents are poor, poor indeed.

Don’t ask for rice beer, remember,
Don’t ask for meat, beloved,
Remember my sweet parents are poor,
poor indeed.

As Nature Study, they learn first-hand about the flora and fauna in the vicinity , with a lot of help from the lush bio-orchard that has been set up within the common premises by the Adivasi Trust with expert help from botanist Srikanta Mondol and his organization-SEWA. The trees laden with mangoes, guava, papaya (papitaa), amaloki, karamchaa (karvandaa), and pineapples keep the children close to nature and infuse a sense of fun into learning.

The children also get the opportunity to learn of the myriad methods in which fruit can be preserved as and when jams, jellies and pickles are made by Santhal youth being vocationally trained on the job.

Of course, given the demands of the times, the children in the primary school follow the RSV syllabus for the first two years, after which the Madhyamik syllabus of the West Bengal board is followed from Class III. Nothing is taught in alchiki (the Santhali alphabet), though, given the limited use of this alphabet.

“ We have a lot of reservations about alchiki,” explains Baski.

The joy and happiness in the children is palpable in this non-formal primary school which is quite removed in its ambience and lack of rigidity in structure and architectural design from government schools in the vicinity. The circular, open classrooms modeled in the manner of Santhal homes, the huge compound ideal for dance and musical soirees, sculpting and art activities naturally interest the children and their guardians. Children of the Vidyashram regularly participate and perform Santhali songs and dances at the Hul Utsab (a festival held to commemorate the Santhal Rebellion or 1855-56) and Dol Utsab every year. […]

It is easy to gauge the happiness the education here brings, when one views the children busily practicing mathematics, or making an effort to master English and correct their pronunciation using their native tongue for reference. It is also a tribute to the six regular teachers and the art teacher in this primary school that one comes across bright youngsters like Rupchand Hansda (from Bishnubati) and Kamini Murmu (of Sarpudanga) who loudly proclaim, “ I love Maths and English.” Or Somnath Das who proudly shows a book-ful of painstakingly drawn sketches that can put many seasoned artistes to shame.

Credit should also be given to the holistic system of education that has had 12 children from the Vidyashram being invited by the All India Radio (AIR) station at Shantiniketan early last year to record a programme of Santhali songs.

The Santhals and adivasis of the country have always been ignored and marginalized owing to a lack of understanding of their culture by the mainstream communities and refusal to make any efforts to reach out by the tribals themselves. The work of Boro Baski and Gokul Hansda in translating and interpreting Santhal culture over the years has certainly made a dent in the earlier state of affairs, with Boro Baski especially working hard to make the Santhali voice herd at seminars in the country and abroad.

One does hope that these efforts that have culminated in this unique primary school would bring the next generation of Santhals closer to the mainstream and usher a better deal for the community for the greater well-being of the nation.

Source: Infusing the Santhali Element in Schooling: The Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram, Birbhum by Rina Mukherji


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Date Visited: Fri Jan 21 2011 19:09:10 GMT+0100 (CET)
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