BENGALURU: When Ulrik Reinhard, a native of Germany, came to India for the first time five years ago, she did something that most locals wouldn’t dare to. She decided to explore the route between Delhi and Mumbai with just a map. “I loved the landscape, it was beautiful.
I stayed in rural Madhya Pradesh close to Panna National Tiger Park, almost in the middle of a forest and it was wonderful. I kept coming back and then decided to stay,” she said.
Reinhard then started her social experiment ‘Janwaar Castle’ - a skate park in a small rural village in Madhya Pradesh. Since the skate park opened in April 2015, she says, caste and gender differences have started to fade.
As the key note speaker at the International Conference On Perspectives and Practices in Play, organised by Mphasis’ NGO partner and International Play Association, she said, “The skate park has been the one area where there is no difference in gender and an Adivasi and a Yadav come together. Contd on P4
There is no hierarchy and everyone calls each other by their names. The beautiful thing about play is that it is an environment where free spirits are allowed to grow unlike the education system in India. The only two rules we had were ‘Girls first’ and ‘No school. No skateboarding’. This environment has slowly spread outside the vicinity of the skate park.”
Confidence, Biggest Achievement*
Reinhard said that girls are respected more by the boys and the children belonging to separate castes mingle outside the skate park. “The biggest difference seen since the skate park is the confidence in the children,” she said. “I do not know to skateboard. I only believe in learning and not teaching.
The children are all self learners. This play gave them the right self confidence, self awareness and better articulation. The children began to attend school regularly and even start questioning the teaching methods. They now wanted to understand everything and not just blindly learn.”
The first child to get a passport from the village was an Adivasi girl, Asha Gond. “We didn’t push her to do it or tell her,” said Reinhard. “She now had the confidence to do it herself. It was big news as she was both a girl and from a lower caste. She became a role model for the school.”
Reinhard said that the education system of India is “very narrow minded”. “They create uniform idiots who cannot stand up for themselves and talk,” she said. “These people will not change the world. I believe that to change an institution it cannot be done from within but another system needs to be created that replaces the old. That is what I am offering.”