As the morning bell rings, hundreds of students run towards a small building in the dusty town of Lohardaga in Jharkhand. With a smile on his face, a 58-year-old man gets the children ready for the morning assembly.
Bangalore-born teacher, V K Balanjinappa took education to tribal children in Lohardaga, a naxal-hit belt 15 years ago.
“Parents give birth but I give them life,” says the teacher. “When I was in Bangalore, I had a dream of opening my own school. When my friend asked me to come to Jharkhand, I readily agreed. Once there, I realised that there was an urgent need to teach the tribal children here. Only education could change their future. These children are from very poor backgrounds and I wanted to contribute my bit to make their life better,” he says.
With a motto, ‘Man Making’, Balanjinappa’s Divine Spark Public school has given the tribal children a chance to dream big. Many of his students have left the jungles behind and have gone on to become bankers, pilots, government officials, teachers etc. He feels a sense of achievement when he hears that his students have achieved big.
“There is no bigger joy than seeing your students grow. Some months ago, a young smart man came and touched my feet. I was surprised as I didn’t know who he was.
He said, Sir, I am one of your first students and now I am a pilot with a private airlines in Hyderabad,” the proud teacher recalls.
As an educator, Balanjinappa is well qualified but more importantly he is well versed in wrestling and football and is also a national award-winning theatre personality. He has also scripted and directed several plays which have won him national-level awards and recognition.
Sitting next to him, clad in a bright saree is Hniing Hring, Balanjinappa’s wife. Hailing from Anal Khuano in Manipur, she is a well loved maternal figure to the students. Initially, the couple was disappointed as they didn’t have funds, infrastructure or students.
“The people in Lohardaga are very helpful. I looked for help and help came.A lot of tribals, agriculturists, local businessmen helped me with funds.”
It was not an overnight success. He didn’t lose hope and slowly put the building blocks together. And, today his hard work has paid off. What started in a small room with only eight students, his school now boasts of 800 students, a hostel, a proper infrastructure and almost 100 per cent results in 10th board examinations.
Without any financial help from the government, he set up the school on rented land and has proved literally that money cannot buy everything. One hundred and fifty students in his school study free of cost and others pay `100 a month as fees.
A man of minimal needs, Balanjinappa has made sure that thousands of children hold a pen in their innocent hands instead of a gun.
“The situation has changed now.Earlier, the innocent tribal people were exploited and most of them ended up going the wrong direction. Most of these children come from poor and illiterate backgrounds and there is no one to guide them,” he says. Initially, the dropout rate in the school was high. Children who were enrolled in the school didn’t turn up as they were not interested. Balanjinappa made an effort to go to their homes personally and convinced the parents to send their children to school.
“It is like pulling these children out of quick sand. If action is not taken immediately, they can get stuck in the mud their entire life, with no way out,” he says.
Recalling a particular student he relates, “I remember this student who had taken admission in our school. He hardly ever attended school and was in bad company. I went and spoke to his parents, requested them to send him to the school. And, today he is in Pune, working for a shipyard company. Education changed his life.”
A strong believer in Swamy Vivekananda’s teachings, Balanjinappa says he owes all his achievements to him.
“He has protected me at every stage of my life. In 1999, some naxals entered our hostel in the dead of night. When I came outside to see what the problem was, they put a gun to my head and locked me in a room. After that they kidnapped a small boy. Due to rains, the roads were in bad condition and the bike they were taking the child on lost control. The child started screaming which attracted some tribals. The naxals left the bike and fled and the child was rescued. It was Swamiji’s grace that saved him that day,” he says.
Balanjinappa has given a fresh meaning to many innocent lives.