Bringing indigenous knowledge systems into a “pedagogy of the collective”: Kora, Munda, Oraon, Mahli and Santal communities’ egalitarian value system is a source of strength – West Bengal

Santal educationist Dr. Boro Baski describes the effects of the ‘Pass-Fail’ policy introduced by the West Bengal government in an essay published on on 25th November 2019 by the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika >>

Text: Courtesy Boro Baski by email 7 December 2019
Photo © Anandabazar Patrika

Adivasi learner and ‘pass-fail’ policy by Dr. Boro Baski
English translation by Prof. Sudipto Mukhopadhyay

Lately the West Bengal Government has scrapped the no-detention policy and brings back the “pass-fail” system. One gets a second chance in Class five and eight if they fail to secure the pass marks. A learner might still fall short of the desired grade, what impact would it have for Adivasi learners?

It is a matter of serious apprehension that this recent amendment might prove to be a deterrent in promoting the spirit of progress among the adivasis. With the implementation of the national policy of Sarva Shiksha Aviyan, the structural development of the schools and schooling, the midday meal, free books, dress, cycle et al have truly made adivasi boys and girls head towards schools. The Right to Education Act of 2009 addresses the social constraints and paves the way for a smooth journey for every learner. This has initiated a great degree of interest among adivasi learners too. So what happens now when no-detention policy is scrapped? The schools with such particularities must also address such questions. A Santal boy who is adept at cultural sports, skilled in playing ethnic instruments, madal or banshi, bearing the tradition of hunt, or a girl who is equally efficient in making household necessities with birch twigs, or masters the art of wall painting or one who decorates herself with leaves and flowers for ethnic dance forms– they who shouldering such pedigree of indigenous knowledge system are left to crease to the back benches? Even after learning and mastering the knowledge of community and tradition why are they made to feel inadequate or even silly, need we not raise this question?

To find an answer, we must trace the tussles between the learner’s ethnic worldview and mainstream education system. To secure grades, one is trained to think through individualistic gains and participate in cutthroat competitions. Do we find such models of pedagogy within the cultural praxis of the Koras, the Oraons, the Mundas, the Mahlis, or the Santal adivasis? Their performative cultures, the agrarian lifestyle or their traditional hunts all point towards the pedagogy of the ‘collective’. Their strength is symptomatic of such an egalitarian value system. The ethnicity within finds hunted down by the predatory aspirations of mainstream pedagogy.

Thus, the coercive culture of education in schools become a site of dilemma for liberal adivasi learners. We know that their festivals and occasions run through the year. The collective euphoria rooted in their folk life-ethos, performances and sports divert their ties away from the schools. Even a natural indifference to worldly riches and idiosyncratic contentment with simple life patterns provide a hindrance in their co-option within the mainstream pedagogical practices. They find it difficult to comprehend. And as much as to disseminate. As minorities in terms of language and culture, there are hardly any alternative pedagogical praxis to solve their queries. So they mostly guess their way through, stuck in the dominant language, curriculum and pedagogy. Likewise, they ought to undertake the same competitive examination system. Do we not thereby consider these specific methodological issues during evaluation or else would it conform to the inherent principles of Right to Education? The law, as was conceived and implemented, initially, had these issues under consideration along with the mainstream pedagogy. That was the reason for the adivasi learners to willingly participate in such a praxis. “I too have passed”- along with an upper class born Hindu, an adivasi learner could express the confidence. ‘I can, we can’- this will has taken roots within.

We yielded it’s benefits too. In the year 2008, Kumkum Kora, a girl from village Rindanga was the first to have passed the Secondary Examination, where most of the girls would return to their banal life even before reaching Class Eight. The parents knew that to go to school is to fail. So they preferred to send their children to the fields or better take care of the household chores. At present these villages have quite benefitted. The girls are regular at the high schools, and the parents have understood the need to support them with money and time. In this village of Rindanga, as many as Thirty Six learners have completed the threshold of Secondary Examination, Graduation and Post Graduation and some have even earned a job. The girls have initiated to write short stories for kids in their own language and make music CDs too. The neighbouring village, Asdullapur had no girl passed in the Secondary Examination until 2010. There are now sixteen who have taken themselves to the higher education.

No one could predict one’s profession in the future. But one could always find a new lees of life in being able to be successful in their own class. The terror of learning might yield results, but inspiration could yield better results, and definitely a more sustainable one. One would hear parents lamenting: “Wish we had no-detention policy in our days, we could have completed our graduation and get a job”. Are we preparing for equity or reviving the regret?

Dr. Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal. The NGO is supported by the German NGO Freundeskreis Ghosaldanga und Bishnubati. He was the first person from his village to go to college as well as the first to earn a PhD (in social work) at Viswa-Bharati. This university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore to foster integrated rural development with respect for cultural diversity. The cooperation he inspired helps local communities to improve agriculture, economical and environmental conditions locally, besides facilitating education and health care based on modern science.

He authored Santali translations of two major works by Rabindranath Tagore, the essay “Vidyasagar-Charit” and the drama Raktakarabi (English “Red Oleanders”), jointly published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Letters) in 2020.

Other posts contributed by Dr. Boro Baski >>

Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust
Registration under Trust Registration Act 1982
P.O. Sattore, Dist. Birbhum
West Bengal-731 236

For inquiries on Santal cultural and educational programs, please contact:
Mob. 094323 57160 or [email protected]

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