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Mohan – Kastur

Gandhi exposing himself to public and claiming that his life is a open book has made people from every field to analyse him from multiple angles. His strong propositions on brahmacharya, upavas, satyagrah, life of hardship, simple living, food system, eradication of untouchability, trusteeship, education and several other views have been subject to critical analysis. He is discussed on his perspectives on religion, women, modern science, oppressed class far more than anybody, by multi-disciplinary team that lessons of a simple life by an innocent man is missed.
Here is an effort to sketch the elusive Mohan as perceived by his wife Kastur. As we go down the memory lane, we need to make conscious effort not to situate the incidents in the present ecosystem. There are vignettes followed by their analysis and interpretation. I have struggled to keep me out of analysis – as woman / wife and a Gandhi admirer. I acknowledge the resources I used from different websites and two authors Dr Aparna Basu of Kasturba Gandhi and Dr H S Anupama author of I am Kastur.
Vignette 1 Two children got engaged and got married as teenagers. Kastur was given enough lessons in her maternal home as to how to behave after marriage. Mohan was no less in imposing restrictions on his wife. He made several rules in an effort to keep her in his control, one of which is “you can’t go anywhere without my permission’. Listen to me, keep quiet, you don’t know, frequented to the utter irritation of Kastur. But Kastur had her way and did what she wanted to do leading to fights. Once when Kastur went to temple with Puthlibai, Mohan scolded Kastur for not taking permission from him. Kastur asserted “who is elder, you or your mother? Why should there be permission from you to go with the elder of the family? Since then he stopped restricting her.
In a social milieu rooted in inequalities and gender stereotype, a husband was questioned by a wife!!! But this did not mobilize Mohan to harness on the gender based stereotypes and structural and institutional inequalities against Kastur to manipulate the reality, rather it made him reflect on the episode to begin accepting individualism. Mohan could see neither a wife nor a woman in Kastur, but an individual.
Vignette 2. While in South Africa every one in the house had to take turns to do the work. A friend of Mohan was staying with them and Kastur could not accept to clean the toilet of the guest and expressed her reluctance to do so. Mohan got so angry that he pulled Kastur out of the house saying choose to stay or go away, I will not tolerate this differentiation towards others. Kastur though cried initially, gained courage to ask Mohan are you not ashamed of putting me out of the house in a foreign land? The angry man suddenly stopped his screaming. Both realised their mistakes and apologised with each other. That was the last time Mohan showed his anger on his wife. Mohan realised that his behaviour was very cheap to punish an individual when they are vulnerable.
This instance revealed to Mohan how abusers mobilize structural vulnerabilities related to race, nationality, and sexuality; and institutional inequalities against victims to erode their realities. These are cruel tactics to rely on the association of vulnerability with irrationality. Kastur mirrored Mohan of his action being opposite to the cause he is fighting in South Africa.
Gandhi understands that pain is not just in jail tortures and physical insults, pain is also in humiliation and subjugation of the vulnerable. It is for that pain that Gandhi speaks again and again. His biography is towards his strive to become Bapu: the caring perosn for all. A figure that truly wants to embrace humanity, not “being human in the shadows worldly pleasures and inborn weaknesses”.
Vignette 3. In the Satyagraha Ashram Kastur was a commanding lady with, sharp and firm voice. She had heavy job on her hands to cook for and feed, besides her family some more people in the Ashram. She was a most demanding leader and would keep the helpers in kitchen on your toes. There would often be a crowd of unexpected guests at the Ashram, then the ‘political capital’ of India. Kastur would sometimes clash with Mohan while he used to bring guests untimely and without informing in the Kitchen. So Mohan used to be nervous on these occasions. Mohan on such occasions would be very humble and tactful. He was then a little afraid of Kastur. One day just after Kastur and her young assistant had washed up after lunch and closed the kitchen, Mohan quickly approached the kitchen and reckoned to the kitchen assistant who was about to leave. He spoke in a whisper so as not to disturb Kastur taking rest in the adjoining room. A number of guests, he announced, were to arrive in an hour, very distinguished guests, among whom was the late Pandit Motilal Nehru, for whom lunch had to be prepared.
He put a finger to his lips as he glanced at Kastur’s room. ‘Do not disturb her, Summon some one, light the fire, chop the vegetables and knead the flour for the chapaties. Send for Kastur only when she is needed. He had the look of some innocent conspirator. The young assistant and helper opened the kitchen noiselessly. Suddenly a brass plate crashed to the floor to wake Kastur and she rushed to the kitchen. She was surprised to see the kitchen in full action at the odd hour. She demanded to know what it was all about. ‘Why did you not send for me?’ she demanded, ‘You think I cannot manage this extra work?’ It was all smooth sailing thereafter. She knew Mohan had arranged the whole thing. At night, after prayers, when all the guests had left, she faced him unexpectedly. She stood before him and a mischievous light in her eyes.
‘Why did you ask them to do the work without me? You think I am lazy?
Mohan replied with all innocence Don’t you know, I am afraid of you on such occasions?”
The anecdote speaks of a deep bond in Mohan – Kastur relationship that is built on friendship, care and mutual respect. Gandhi as a person not only respects women, feels their struggle at home and in the society, be it at the time of menstruation or bearing and rearing of a child, or putting together household chores to take time and weave in the charkha.
Vignette 4. The forth anecdote that I would like to narrate is that of Mahadev Desai’s wife and Kastur visiting the Jagannath temple when they visited Odisha on a mission on Swaraj, one goal being educating the mass against untouchability. Mohan comes to know of the visit is deeply saddened. It is his wee years, now he does not scold Kastur anymore like he used to in their early married years. Kastur later reflects on her husband’s feelings and action and feels them vibrating inside her that “she need not visit a temple that practices untouchability”.
Thus after a time, the beliefs, the causes, and soul of Mohan and Kastur became the very belief system, cause and soul of both, they became one. They learned from each other, they grew old together, lived their dream of a free India together and they continue to live in this free India together in the hearts of every Indian. Wish they continue to live in every human being by starting a new tradition of respect, care and concern in every intimate relationship, learning from each other in the path of attaining self-actualisation.
As a sociological phenomenon macro-level social inequalities get transformed into micro-level strategies. But Mohan could transcend to Mahatma by applying the micro level strategies to fight the social inequalities and the lessons learnt on individualism helped to build collectivism. Sociologically placing this phenomenon in its cultural, structural, and institutional contexts would give a new perspective to human relationships and development. This is the lesson we can learn from the simple life of Mohan and Kastur while analysing the Perspective of Mahatma on women.
(Mahatma from Kastur’s perspectives, views expressed in the one – day webinar on Gandhi and Women conducted by centre for women’s studies Pondicherry University on 18th August 2020)

Lockdown

I search for words to glorify agony in gloom

Cries of my fellow human beings worldwide is loud.

 

Warriors on the roads and hospitals risking lives

Their families under constant threat.

 

Siblings in the boarders unperturbed by heat and dust

Waging a war that is different, to their best.

 

Children locked in countries unknown

Chasing dreams of everyone.

 

Lots to do! in home, from home, for home.

Posterity I owe you a better abode

Creating New Equations

Few minutes spent with Mr Murugan on my way back from Kohima on 25th July 2019 enriched me as a teacher educator.  What is special about Murugan? He won National Award for Teachers in September 2018, a Tamilian representing Nagaland.

After being in the 2018 state selection committee for the National Award to Teachers,  I was in the committee again for the 2019 teacher selection.  During the process of selection I expressed with the Principal secretary, Ministry of Education and the Director School education, that we could have invited the last year’s winner at the National level. They immediately arranged my meeting with him on my way back to Dimapur airport the following day.  He reached Chumukedima High School from his school Peren at 11 am and I reached the school on time.  The Principal Ms Karen Sema was pleasantly surprised and showed her eagerness to listen to our conversation when she came to know the background of our visit to her school.

With Mr. Murugan (Right) and Ms Karen Sema (Left)

Journey of Murugan from Tirunelveli to Peren is unimaginable, more so his journey from an ordinary teacher to a national award winning teacher. Murugan lost his father when he was 12 years old.  Being the eldest son with three brothers and three sisters he has seen the struggle to earn money for feeding the family and to study.  He vividly remembers how the siblings used to work in tobacco packing for 50 paisa per day during 1980.  That was the daily wage for children while women would get Rs 2 and men Rs 3.  His mother used to work there and during holidays and vacation children would join her so that they could continue their education.  From 1984 to 86 while studying in plus 2, he found black topping on the road a high earning job with Rs 13 per day.  There was an incentive of Rs 2 for those who were fast and would do more work.  Murugan without fail earned Rs 15 with his swift movement, not because he was so but because of the Rs 2 incentive.  Saved money and continued education to become a graduate with chemistry honours, math and physics.  Though he was fond of Mathematics from the school days, took chemistry major only because his teacher said Chemistry honours has more  scope of getting job in industries compared to Mathematics.  His only focus was to get a job as soon as possible and help his younger siblings and mother a better life.

PM Narendra Modi Tweets to Congratulate Mr. Murugan (Source: https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/1036991391270760448?s=20)

By the time he completed graduation from Kanyakumari Vivekananda college he had 20 options written in his dairy to work in which the last was server in hotel.  During such dire need for salary few of his friends talked to him about demand for Mathematics teachers in Nagaland.  Without much details he boarded the weekly train to Guwahati from where he reached Nagaland and entered a Baptist school at Oka for Rs 700 per month as salary. He narrated his 5 days train journey with out reservation on a unreserved compartment in the upper birth. He did not think of anything as that was a big money for him he could save maximum and send home.  His flair for teaching earned him good name and respect from the villagers.  Within two years the head master of the school moved to another private school, forcibly took Murugan for double the salary.  In the mean time there was a written exam for Nagaland Government teacher’s post which we qualified and got appointed in 1992.  In 1995 competed B. Ed. from Annamalai University.  He was happy to get a government job and his satisfaction of being a teacher continued in spite of remaining as a contractual employee till 2006. As per the Government of Nagaland policy if any local person qualifies for the same post for which a non local is already appointed, the job would automatically get cancelled.  With such risk he stayed on as he liked the local people, his love for teaching Mathematics to young kids and of course the salary.

In his was sailing through his professional life, he got married, has two children, studying in his native place.  He goes home twice in a year.  All his siblings are married and well settled.  Mother lives in the village with one of the brother.

As a teacher he finds complete satisfaction in teaching Mathematics to his school children.  His innings from making effort to understand Zeliang (the tribal language)  ‘chima’ (don’t know) and ‘kethe chima’ (don’t know anything) to ‘chitha le’ (I know) and ‘thouda le’ (I got it) has brought the National award to this passionate teacher.  He is well versed with several tribal languages and Nagamese.  He has become one with the local community.  He is proud to say that some of his students are his colleagues in the same school now.  He has adapted to the food and climate of Peren and the serene surrounding.  He feels uncomfortable when he goes to his hometown due to the extreme heat there.

He remembers his mother and her struggle, the freedom she gave her children to go the way they think is the  best for their family.  Only because of her fearless farewell when he boarded the train to Nagaland he could work without any doubt and establish himself in a distant land that is unknown and little connected with India geographically and culturally.

BB & C

Black board and chalk are personification of a classroom.  Scores of years ago the term was used as a symbol of infrastructure in elementary school (Operation blackboard).  Alas it is missing in our classrooms today in the name of progress, development and advancement.  This basic time tested, economical, environment friendly facility is being replaced by “white board and marker”.  The sob story of this deadly combination is killing the simple pleasures of teachers and children in school and power of teacher educator and weapon of student teacher in a teacher education institute.

Running from pillar to post to get the markers issued in a system, the hard found markers running out of ink soon, frequent borrowing by well-meaning colleagues add to the agony. The first word is clear on the white board but as it goes further colour fades gradually ending with nothing. Those who are seated in the last bench in a classroom of hundred are the sufferers not to say about those with low vision if any.

For those with environmental consciousness throwing the markers with dried up ink is always a dilemma.    The happiness of using coloured chalk for diagrams (especially for life science), for highlighting (for technical words, for new vocabulary, for pronunciation), for making meaning of concepts (chemical bond, litmus test for acid base) is no more possible.  The personal touch teacher gives to the letter, word and phrase with different coloured chalks is no more a solace.  Children using the friendly space with imagination soaring till the teacher enters, the space to put out aggression if any in the form of drawing and writing no more exists.  Schools are becoming as mechanical as whiteboard and marker.  Black board please come back to my class, I will walk without guilt and doubt towards you with a chalk for we build a bond one-to-one; one-to-many at the same time.  BB and C we love you.

Visit to the abode of moon

As part of the research project on Buddhist educational institutions got an opportunity to enter the beautiful landscape of Chandragiri in Gajapathi district of Odisha not as a tourist but as a learner.  It was indeed an excellent journey through the mysteries of monasteries, monks and momos.  It was more of development of self in the journey than the study, the best part of taking up research projects.

27th November early morning reached Chandragiri by bus from Bhubaneswar.  Monk Neyku was waiting for us in the misty darkness to pick us.  In the wilderness he drove us the ten kilometres into the camp 4 monastery guest house Ripo.  Entered the chilled room into the bed and blanket equally chill to rest without moving our body after the roller coaster ride of sleeper bus.  With special Tibetan hand made bread with peas masala for breakfast felt comfortable as with it the sun rays entered straight into the room, relieving the overnight blues.  With all energy entered temple of their learning Padma Sambhava Maha Vihar  – Rigon Thupten Mindolling Monastery.  Inside life of the students is as unique as the name it holds.  There are 200 students approximately age ranging from 5 years to 23 years.  Age of admission is 5 years.  Those who join irrespective of the age are put in junior 1.  The class they have are called as junior 1 to 9 and senior 1 to 9 thus having 18 years of education.  If a student completes 18 years in the learning they get degree equivalent to doctoral.  They follow the syllabus of their Thupten board and the degree awarding body is the Central Tibetan Administration. The students who complete their education at any stage can leave the monastery and work as per the requirement of the group.  They join as teachers in any monastery, they go to  preach in and outside India depending on the invitation.  They are willing to share their knowledge in any forum.  Initial learning is Tibetan language, English and numbers.  Once  they master by completing 18 years of study in the monastery, they  start teaching their religious literature.  There is wealth of literature in the Buddhist philosophy that are explored by the senior students. 

28th November – visited the central Tibetan school.  The I/c principal gave us the information of the school and its philosophy.  The Dalai Lama means an ocean of knowledge.  They are the spiritual people to spread the Buddhist philosophy.  Anni are female spiritual teachers taking similar responsibility.  One Anni is appointed in the school and she takes classes on the religion, about Tibet, their freedom struggle and vision for their country.  In their time table there is three periods per week for every grade for spiritual lessons.  Anni takes those classes.  She is appointed by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala.  They are appointed on contractual basis and are paid by the school authorities.  Since 2001 Tibetans are not taken as teachers on regular basis.  There are teachers who teach Tibetan language, music, dance and art, from Tibetan community and all are working on contractual basis. Initially there were 73 schools under the central government, the Central Tibetan School and now there are only 14.  The rest are being taken over by the CTA.

From one of the camps (number 5) 14 children from monastery are sent to the Central Tibetan school.  The principal finds them very disciplined and good at studies.  Many delegates come from European and American countries and set up their projects in the Tibetan settlement.  They have set up a cultural centre, hospital and some small scale industries.  They use the Tibetan medicines in the hospitals.  The locality also has other hospitals and dental clinics set up by project funds. World wide there is Tibetan refugee fund set up for the cause of Tibetan that flow into the camps.  Usually during winter parents go on selling warm clothes in different parts of the country. Hostels are set up by these donors to provide accommodation, food, help in studies for their children during this time.  Care takers are appointed and they take classes on moral and spiritual education in the hostel.

The school has classes from 6 up to class 10.  After they complete class 10 students are sent to other schools where plus 2 is available.   Only three central Tibetan schools have science stream.  Depending upon the availability of seats and interest of students the decision will be made in the camp by the respective camp leaders in consultation with the other leaders of the camp.  Many students are found to be entering into hotel management and nursing.

The central Tibetan school goes out for competition in the inter CBSE meets of sports and culture.  They have opportunities to go on field trips to local spots of tourist interest.  Everything is free of cost, students need not pay anything in the school.

Camp 3 – exclusively for girls has three Lopen (teachers) and 36 children.  Started only 3 years back.  Construction work is going on.  The teachers come from outside to teach them English, Tibetan.  Each room has 4 students, the younger ones are kept with the older so that they are attended to for their daily work.  Girls as young as 5 years are there in the monastery.  All were in their routine prayer when we visited.  They completed their prayer and later spoke to us.  Since they are not conversant in Hindi and English it was little difficult for us to continue our discussion.  The Lopen were from Nepal, they speak in Nepali and Tibetan. It was clear from their expression that they are not very much exposed to outsiders to develop communication.  They live in their own world. Prayer, reading Tibetan literature on Buddhist philosophy and working is the way they spend their entire day.  Contact with outside world is too limited.

29th November

Camp 1 – students are not there.  Only two monks stay there to take care of the monastery.  There is an old age home associated with this monastery funded by the Tibetan association. 24 old people are staying there.  A community nurse is engaged to take care of their health needs.  She stays there from morning 9 to 5 in the evening.  Mostly the inmates of the home are widows and those who do not have children.  Women are more in number.  They spend time listening to their prayer which is played continuously through loud speaker.  Their day starts with prayer in the prayer room for an hour.  They have a kitchen where appointed cooks preparing food as per their need.  Spacious dining room is attached with a small kitchen that are kept very clean.

Camp 2 – monastery is small but very peaceful.  Students are not there.  Community people look after the monastery.  Significant days monks from camp 4 go there to perform the rituals.  In a month they observe 2 days as auspicious days celebration of the Buddhist religious rituals.    An old man looking after the monastery brought the key to open it for us and helped us to see around.  There is a small well equipped kitchen and dining space adjacent to the monastery which is used whenever the monks go there to perform the rituals

Camp 5 – two Lopen and 50 monks are housed in  this monastery.  The monastery is under construction.  Only hostel, kitchen and dining room is ready.   All the monks from this monastery attend the regular classes from class one to five in the Sambodha Tibetan Primary school that is run by the Tibetian Association and after class 5 they go to the central Tibetan school till class 10.  In the monastery the two Lopen take classes on Buddhist philosophy and religious teaching early in the morning and by 8.30 they are ready to go to school.  They get back by 4 in the evening and the lopen will help them in their school related work and in case of difficulty which the Lopen is not able to solve, especially in science and mathematics they call up the school teachers and get the help from them.  The students are mostly from Arunachal Pradesh (Bomdilla), few are from Nepal and one student is from the local Chandragiri.  Individual choice is taken to enrol in monastery and get spiritual education, still they prefer to keep children from far off place as it is not disturbing them from their routine.  If they come from near by places the parents keep visiting them and they also would want to go home often that impedes their academic activities.  Many times local students run away to home from monastery.  To control such challenges the monasteries prefer to keep children from far off land.  Children like general subjects, they are happy to go to the community school, but they face problem in learning mathematics and history.  One student expressed that he likes science subject very much. Mr Cheme Youngdoung a retired teacher provides his guidance and service to the monastery and children on voluntary basis.

Visited settlement office and met the officer Mr Chonar Samdup to discuss the background of Tibetan settlement of Chandragiri.  The officer talked about settlement of Tibetans in Chandragiri said that since the 60s the settlement has been given by Government of India like in other parts of the country.  In this context he also talked about the state goventment has given them land to settle but as of now unlike other settlements developmental work at Chandragiri is scanty.  He gave some data of the settlement like total household is 600 plus, population is 2400 approximately spread over the five camps.  One significant aspect of the Tibetans at Chandragiri is that they have influenced the local residents to start cultivation of food crops like maize and barley.  Another contribution is that because of the Tibetans the local people get employment and there is a mutual learning of language and culture.  This centre has become the attraction for tourists and recently the monastery at camp 4 is included in the tourist map of Odisah thus attracting a large number of tourists from the state as well as outside.  He quoted the Dalailama’s ideas about the integration of modern subjects in the monastery education.  Now lots of development have been planned to make transportation easier through new construction of roads and alternate approaches to the monastery.  Most of the youngsters are abroad and their parents are engaged in the business.

However it is noticed that the children in the monastery are shy and do not express anything freely.  Probably due to lack of exposure to outer world, they do not even acknowledge the presence of new comers.  They seem to be in their own space doing their work meticulously but mechanically.  It is noticed that young children in Junior one were responding to our interactions much better than the older children in the monastery. Similarly the teachers of the monasteries were very social and willing to share their life and culture. May be that level of concentration is essential to indulge in serious study of Buddhism. Life in the monastery no doubt makes them disciplined and concentrates on their studies of Buddhist philosophy but restricted their socialisation in the larger community.

The difference

Koraput welcomes the visitors from Bhubaneswar to the cool breeze and interior climate to heave a sigh of relief from the hot and humid coastal climate of August. This was a field visit for conducting research to analyse school readiness of children from scheduled tribe (ST) community. Koraput located on a section of the Eastern Ghats has a vast expanse of mountain ranges. The district occupies a unique position in the tribal map of Odisha with 50% of ST population. Nearly 62 types of ST of Odisha have their existence in this district each with a distinct set of values, beliefs and rituals.

An Anganawadi in the interior of Similiguda provided space for our orientation to field investigators. We had to prepare couple of local youth to collect data through the tools that were developed to assess school readiness of children in the cognitive, social and language areas. Unlike other Anganawadis, this one welcomed us to a clean orderly and a huge bunch of bubbling children numbering 36. All the children with their neat uniforms, including their teacher and helper. The room was large enough for the seating of children in a big circle. Open racks on the wall had staked boxes neatly labelled that contained cut outs of alphabets, numbers, beads, seeds and many more. Surprisingly most of the materials were developed by the teacher Basudha (pseudonym) with the help of the helper and others in the neighbourhood with materials available in the surrounding. She took great interest in explaining the materials with all innocence enthusiasm and contentment. She knew her role and was proud of being a part of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) project of the nation.

The pot of drinking water is clean and covered with a plate. The helper gives water to drink poured into a cup whenever a child comes there. There is another pot with water with a mug attached to it to wash hands. The helper insists on washing hands before serving food. Children take a line to the water pot, the helper pours the water to children’s hands, all of them wash with soap and sit in a circle for lunch. Fresh rice and vegetables served to all and they ate without wasting. The helper helped very young children to eat and as soon as all children finished eating, she cleaned the room briskly.

The teacher and the helper along with the members of the community have made the ambience child friendly, healthy and learning oriented. The teacher Basudha was different and I had much to learn from her. She had no complaint on any facility. She has converted the available infrastructure and resources appropriately to suit the working, she takes personal interest in children to see that they come to the centre regularly, smiling non-stop explained her work to us taking care of children engaging them with songs and games. She knew the speciality of every child. One girl was good at acting and because of her she had planned one play wherein the small girl takes the lead role and manages the small group with her. That was a story of a family taking their children to a village fair. Interesting conversation is built in to the play that brings the fair live to the room. Mother takes lead role in controlling unruly children that the young girl has been prepared to. In this process she controls the group for nearly half an hour. During this time the teacher engages the other group on some other activity. The children show great maturity responsibility and comradeship. I realised one person can make a difference. I am sure there are many ‘Basudhas’ in India to move towards realising the objectives of early childhood care and education to reality.

Less trodden path

Beautiful drive to Nimalo off Salepur in Cuttack district tough road took three and a half hours from Bhubaneswar. My colleagues and me were on our way to visit Madrasa to learn their way of functioning. From Cuttack, moved along the flow of the majestic Mahanadi, sand bank, canals and scanty livelihood of meager living. Poverty was glaring in a rich landscape.

‘Nimalo’ we reached! our destination, a small town. After several stops and asking the passersby, reached the location with a final powerful guidance by 6-7 year old boy cutting a climber with a knife pointing towards the exact location. A friendly woman in a petty shop realizing our search for something like a school (Madrasa) gave the entry into through an unassuming path. Our visit was with the purpose of gathering data for a research with permission from the authorities. Clear surrounding, fresh smell of boiling rice welcome us to the joy of learning inside.

The head teacher came running humbly, we put his awe to ease by explaining our purpose and requesting their cooperation. Entered the first room after the initial pleasantries with teachers. That was class three with four girls, sitting on the floor, with colorless Urdu books reading with a matching rhythm of the body. Each face was bright, eyes full of aspirations. As my colleagues started with the check list and questionnaires, I engaged those curious minds for 30-40 minutes. They read the book, taught me ‘alim, thhe, phe, …….’ ……’ . I tried writing it on the blackboard, as they observed with happiness the difficulty of an adult to write what is child’s play for them.

After a brief tint of learning Urdu, to put me to comfort asked if they know A, B, C, D, ……. They all said ‘yes’ and started with writing letter dictation – ‘X’, ‘T’ ‘P’….. Began another activity of identifying first letter of their names. Ayesha, ‘A’., Resham ‘R’, Sonia ‘S’, Sania ‘S’ (the identical twins), each one telling a word and write the first letter of the word , ‘Lion’ ‘L’, Apple ‘A’ and so on. I gave Cuttack all said ‘K’, compared with C of words like cut and cake, soon responded enthusiastically saying C. Slowly moved to word writing. Each one saying one word from flower, fruits, vegetables, birds, animals, 20 words were written. When the new words came, played with syllables and they created their own spelling, almost correct like ba/na/na, Jas/mi/ne. it was full time fun. Their teachers also came around and participated in the learning process.

Did not find anyone with visual perceptual difficulty or anyone struggling to identify letters and write words. One girl Reshma wrote D in reverse pattern while writing the word Dog. Allowed her to correct by herself which she could do. No writing difficulty though the writing facility was very non-conducive. They were using very thin, hard tipped cheaper pen, heavy/ long note books, leaning to the floor posture. The class room was clean, well ventilated with a comfortable blackboard which I could use as a supporting material to my spelling class. All the children had sound letter association almost perfect, handwriting legible and readable. Listening comprehension was age appropriate, behavior excellent. Teachers very happy to spend time, watch us as we interacted with children, listening to them, reading and writing with them, singing and dancing with them.

Next we went to the adjacent room that had two groups of students class two and 4-5 as one group in a same room, sitting back to back with two blackboards on the opposite walls. In class 4 and 5 group, some children read Urdu lesson, one boy aspiring to be teacher, read a poem and explained to us in hindi and odiya. Very confidant and he was happy to make us understand the poem. Class two children danced and sang songs. Next room was of class one, some as young as below five years were also there. Some shy, some smart, some outspoken, some different. They all could identify A-Z any letter while asked to recognize in a chart.

The toilet was kept very clean with a tank, bucket, mug, foot ware and a stable door that has a latch both outside and inside. The school has a fence made of laterally opened bamboo shoots covered with plastic bags here and there. One portion similar to the fence opens as gate. A bore-well is located that gives plenty of water throughout the year. The kitchen is open with a metal sheet on the top where a cook and a helper were preparing lunch for the mid day. Boiled eggs, dhall and rice were prepared and covered neatly.

Left the school with bye to the children and teaches by the time all had gathered to see us off. Elders of the village and teachers bid us alwida with ‘phir se ayiyega’ ‘hamare saath khaana khayiye’. Both sides knew pretty well that day does not come, we gave assurance, exchanged telephone numbers despite knowing we will not use it again. But for sure the teachers will cherish the exposure, children will remember the visit of the aliens that might have given some prick to some one to study further. A lady teacher choked with emotion said from your visit our children have learnt a lot, looking at people like you is highly motivating for our girls, where will they get this kind of opportunity and similar feelings. Was our visit so strong, just two hours of interaction in the school could bring tears of joy and gratitude??? We must do much more of these visits to give wings to the aspiration of the under privileged section of society. Two youngsters among the teachers continuously telling us to increase their salary, the two older ones continuously showing their gratitude for taking trouble to travel and reach their remote school was striking. Treated us with frooti/ mazaa and aam swad toffee, I consumed both, though I never drink preserved water/ juice and toffees. It is their warmth and the need to have it after the drive of the desperate need to drink something. Enjoyed frooti/mazaa for the first time.

Stopped our vehicle on the picturesque road side under the shade of a huge tree. Had our packed lunch in the serene spot. Could not resist a brief stop in Salepur Bikalo Gharo to relish the original taste of rasgolla. Headed back with rich experience preparing ourselves to work with more rigor towards the mission.

The return journey was not the same as the visit had churned my conscience deep. Village schools and teachers are suffering from identity crisis. Teachers knew their role is crucial for the future and well being of their neglected community. They want to work to bring change in the lives of youngsters in their community. There are lots of policies, programmes and schemes for the benefit of education of minority community in our country. Is it really benefiting the target? Lots of work needs to be taken up to bring the Government initiatives to the ground. I realized what is required is giving our time to be with them, listen to them, connecting with them. Spending some happy time with them, listening to their experiences would contribute much more than the schemes and programmes could. Contribution to education is not only developing material, not conducting research and publishing in journals but also giving a bit of our time and expertise through personal interaction.

An anecdote

As a practice with me when I visit any school I asked a teacher if there were any children with disability in the school. She narrated her story to say that the community does not recognize the right of the child with disability to be getting any facility. Her only son has an intellectual disability is being taken care at home by her mother while her husband works in another country. One day when the child was groaning with pain she took him to a doctor who refused to give any medicine saying ‘this kind of children should not live’. Probably the doctor could not diagnose the cause of pain. After returning home mother found that one of his teeth was decaying and she took him to a dentist and got it extracted to relive him of pain. Child is a child, mother is a mother. We need to reaffirm that we have to provide the facility / opportunity to them. How much they can empower given the opportunity is not our concern. Giving relief from pain, pleasure of being with other children of their age, leaning one word, one behavior cannot be restricted due to our ignorance.

Towards Mobilizing Support for Dignity – Guidance and Counseling for Students with Disabilities-

The International Day of Persons with Disability is observed with the purpose of promoting an understanding of issues related to disability. It is important to develop awareness on possibilities of building  a society that accept disability as diversity that is natural. Dignity to persons with disabilities lies in giving them equal opportunity.  This write up is an effort to provide equal opportunity in education with little understanding about them.

There is no disagreement to the fact that children in present day schools are under more stress than children in earlier times.  As a direct consequence of this, parents and teachers of these children may also be under additional stress. Hence it is crucial that children, teachers and parents are guided as to how to cope with the changing times with its unique challenges.  When this is the situation for all the children, what will be the plight of children with disabilities, their parents and teachers? Teachers dealing with them in their schools have to be geared up to face this special challenge in the coming years. To do this the teacher has to wear the hat of a counselor at the call of time.

Like all people, students with disabilities also have basic needs for security, affection, belonging, and achievement.  In general students with disabilities are like their age level peers.  They need the warmth and security of their parents; as adolescents they seek group identification and peer acceptance; as they move toward young adulthood they become increasingly concerned with their sexual identity and as they continue to mature they seek increased independence in work and social lives.  Because youth with disability share the same basic needs, interest, values, and aspirations as their peers, guidance and counseling goals and methodologies are also parallel.   Guidance and counseling needs have to be addressed during their adolescence, to prepare them for adult living.

The major reason why people with disability suffer psychological trauma is due to the reaction of significant people to their disability.    Have we not observed that some children with disability are so well adjusted?  Hence it is mainly the way the people surrounding them understand them and provide support and encouragement.  This helps them to cope with the situation and achieve their maximum potential.  The role of a teacher is very crucial in developing this positive environment in the society.  The right act of the teacher is appreciated and emulated by scores of eager budding youngsters in the making.

Teachers have to keep in mind the following guidelines while dealing with children with disabilities.

  • They are their own persons.  There is absolutely no reason why they should be compared with their siblings, peers or even others with similar disabilities.  This could be true for academic achievement and for all other activities.
  • Each person  is different, and no matter what label is attached for the convenience of others, every person is “unique” which has to be valued.
  • The persons with disabilities are  persons first.  An instrument of achievement and production is next, for the satisfaction of parents, teachers and society
  • They have the same needs as anyone else, to love, and be loved, to learn, to share, and to grow.  That has to be catered to before augmenting their potential.
  • They have the same right as others – to fail, to fall, to suffer, to criticize, to cry, to curse, to despair. Give them a chance to do everything and learn for their experience.
  • Only those who are with disability can show or tell  what is possible for them. We who love them must be attentive, attuned observers to identify their strengths and encourage them to achieve in the field of their interest.
  • We can supply the alternatives, the possibilities, the necessary tools-but only they can put these things into action. We can only stand fast, be present to reinforce, encourage, hope and help, when we can.
  • They like ourselves are entitled to life as we know it. They, too, must decide to live it fully in peace, joy, and love, with what they  have.
  • Persons with disabilities, no matter the degree, have a limitless potential for becoming – not what we desire them to become but, but what is within them to become.
  • They must find their own manner of doing things.  There are many ways of tying a shoe, drinking from a glass, finding one’s way to a bus stop. There are many ways of learning and adjusting. They must find the best way for them.
  • The students with disability also need the world, and others, in order to learn.  Our job is to act as loving human beings by providing the opportunity they need.
  • All persons with disabilities have a right to honesty about themselves, about everyone and about their condition.  To be dishonest with them is the most terrible disservice one can perform.  Honesty forms the only solid base upon which all growth can take place.

There are certain dangers which have to be kept in mind while dealing with children with disabilities.

  • By practice, the society looks at people with disability with sympathy. The feeling of pity which emerges in the tone, voice or facial expression is detrimental to the self esteem of the individual.  The teacher counselor has to come out of this state of mind deliberately before taking a student for counseling.
  • The counselor cannot be a savior angel. In an effort to help, counselor has to be conscious not to increases the student’s dependence.
  • We should be patient in identifying the students’ interest and aptitude. There is so much of diversity in disability. We can never judge what is best for the student by our instincts and experience. We need to be cautious not to come in the way of the student’s autonomy and self worth.
  • Counselor becomes tense because of feeling of inadequacy regarding the ability to help. The counselors unconsciously reject the student because of their lack of knowledge.  This could also happen if the counselors have a tunnel vision that children with disabilities are not able to do anything.
  • There is also a danger that a student’s achievement is overvalued. This may limit the student’s actual potential and come in the way of improving the skill.

Good intentions, commitment to the task, and appropriate attitude toward students with disability will go far toward positive counseling outcomes.  However therapeutic change is increasingly found to be largely dependent upon the competence or skill of the teacher counselor.  The competent counselor then is one who is committed to helping students with disabilities and radiates confidence in their ability to lead productive, satisfying lives.  In addition, the teacher counselor possesses the necessary skills to build a therapeutic relationship with the student and judge an appropriate method and techniques to further the student’s progress.

It is towards this end, that each school should have guidance and counseling services made available to their students who have lost their way and need someone who can support them in finding their way again. Guidance and Counseling is also needed for parents and teachers to learn how to cope with situations involving their children with disabilities.

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Extreme sensitivity towards fellow human beings – A rare expression these days

Visiting the formerly famous VRCH in Bhubaneswar now National Centre for Skill Enhancement Program, was a great learning.  The young professional welcomed us, the three faculty members with a score of students on a field visit lead us to the interior of the building.   He initiated with the procedure of selection for the various courses of vocational skill enhancement. During rounds to different sections, we entered the room of electrical home appliances nearly a dozen were involved in practical activity. The trainer in the section took over the task of explaining the details. The trainer was explaining while the young professional pointed to a keenly involved worker with locomotor disability in the group and said he was a student in the same section, and is a trainee at present.  Called him to explain about the work he is doing.  As he was in between his work, surrounded by a group of keenly observing students, said he will complete it and come forth to explain. Probably he felt that his explanation wasn’t required as we were already introduced to the type of skill or maybe he wasn’t comfortable to come out distinguishably and explain or he felt that he was being called without purpose. He continued his work with single minded devotion. Something we need to learn. He demonstrated ‘work is worship’ without much ado.

Next visit was to a tailoring room. Young girls with hearing impairment dominated the group. I was walking around the section and stopped near one girl just to listen to the explanation being given by the tutor there. She immediately offered her chair to me which I did not accept.  She made me accept it through her gestures to the extent that I could not refuse. After I sat, she took another chair from the room and sat on it. Such gestures are very rare to find with the population now a days.  The hospitality and generocity she exhibited was too embarrassing to an ordinary person like me, I asked myself would I be doing this for someone?  There was no sign of impersonal feeling towards a stranger, she was doing it just for a fellow human being.  They accept us the strangers as their loved ones, showing care and concern for us.

A girl with low vision was standing close to me in Dr. Reddy’s foundation and listening. When I touched a chair facing the opposite side to the speaker,  the girl immediately rotated it in 360 degree to make it to face the speaker. She understood that I was intending to sit to listen to the person in the section who was addressing us.  What was unique was that it was done without putting forth the impression that any help was being extended. I was amazed by the dedication, solidarity and promptness to respond to someone’s unexpressed need.

A person with visual impairment was training a newly admitted girl in computer application section. When he was asked to open a word file, he immediately did so and types his name on it, so spontaneous, no hesitation, do doubt, no confusion. Fully confidant, maturity oozing in  his actions.  I interacted with him regarding his prior education and came to know that he has a bachelors in music and presently pursuing masters in music. When we showed our keenness to listen to him sing, without requiring persuasion he started a Hindi song.  His presence of mind was such that the song echoed his concealed feelings when he went on….…jag ne cheena mujhse, jo chaaha tha mai ne ….. which made all of us look into each other’s eyes in appreciation and avoid at the same time to hide the thin film of moisture most of us had unknowingly.  Such was the melody in his voice and the emotional expression in a very confidant, steady gait.

There is LOT to learn from people with disability around us. The benefit of inclusive education is that we get people from diverse backgrounds living with us from whom we can learn ‘life’. Just being exposed to them is a learning experience. It is invaluable for children during their formative years. The humane qualities embedded in the people with disabilities are beyond imagination.   I am convinced that inclusive education is an excellent opportunity to reflect and reciprocate to fill the society with love, care and compassion.

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Why and what is the confusion in equivalence of special and general education?

There is still confusion and possibilities of different interpretations from different institutions with reference to equivalence of special education to general education.  The equivalence for getting employment in the state government schools is being followed by some states whereas few states take special educators as resource teachers /itinerant teachers only,  thereby differentiating the roles and responsibilities as  ‘other’ than the regular teachers.  Admission to higher education is contentious, each institute interpreting the MOU between RCI and NCTE for their convenience.  Very recently, a student qualified national level entrance exam and was called for M Ed admission.  On verification it was found that the student had B Ed in special education (MR) from a National Institute.  The student was refused admission based on the ground that B Ed special education is not eligible for M Ed under general stream, in spite of equivalence for employment, on the argument that it is only for employment not for higher education.  The same student got admission for M Ed in another institute under the same administration without any difficulty.  NCTE 2014 regulation has relaxed several of the admission criteria into teacher education to widen the scope  of teacher education especially at the masters level. TEIs at local levels need to strengthen policies in tune with national /state levels to bring in more collaboration

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