BARHARWA-LAKHANSEN (MOTIHARI) : The thatched mud walls of a run down five-room enclosure strike the eye besides a spanking new school building, just 30 km south of Ghorasahan in East Champaran district of Bihar.
A long queue of poor students — mostly in tatters and sans uniforms — are already in the corridors of the new building, awaiting their mid-day meal.
But, there are signs that there have been attempts of late to keep the mud walls of the ‘older’ school intact though it’s clear no classes are held any more in the structure. With just four teachers in the school, academics have taken a backseat.
After all, this is the first basic school to be launched on November 13, 1917 at the height of the Champaran Satyagraha by none other than Mahatma Gandhi—a true replica of his famed community experiment at the Tolstoy and Sphinx farms, which he had launched in South Africa as a young practising lawyer in 1910.
Old-timers recall that Gandhi stayed here with Kasturba Gandhi to teach for six months and brought a team of London-educated teachers as volunteers.
However, today there are no takers for Gandhi’s school as it lies in tatters, a pale shadow of a novel idea that got lost in the sands of time.
Gandhi wanted to groom future leaders at this Champaran school
Sonelal Raut, 55, whose grandfather Pran Jyoti Raut was asked by Gandhi to be the first volunteer guard of the place, still wears his ancestor’s brass nameplate with pride, though he does not draw a salary.
His father Hena Raut too looked after the place and was the cleaner too, ‘till he died.’
Sonelal can recall the historicity of the place where he stands guard, but is “disappointed”, that “there’s none for Gandhi today”.
The answer lies around-the unhygienic environs, the flies which settle on children’s khichdi and the mud and slush all around.
Mohammad Kamal Hussein, who manages the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial-cum-Village Development Committee here, said: “Gandhi had started the 1,200-acre Tolstoy Farm in South Africa to experiment with a self-sustained community inviting people of all faiths, communities and backgrounds to come together to learn, farm, till, scavenge and not depend on anyone.
He imparted trades like tailoring, carpentry, agriculture etc even as he opened schools for children to impart them the three ‘R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic.”
“The main message of his experiment at the Champaran schools was that they, in addition to being places of instruction for the young, should also be community centres for skilling, planning and initiation of all good work for the uplift of villages... He was aware that to accomplish this, teachers of high quality were necessary. Apart from academic qualifications, they should have leadership traits too,” Hussein said.
Old-timers recall that Gandhi stayed here with Kasturba to teach for six months and brought a team of teachers as volunteers.
Today, a 1,000 children are enrolled in the new school besides Gandhi’s basic school, which sprouted another 38 branches in Champaran. But the new school has just four teachers to teach till Class X.
“How can they cope with so many children? Even basic reading is ignored,” said Ramesh Kumar, a tea vendor.
Mohd Islam, a teacher, said the children are taught about Gandhi but they hardly recall it. But for January 30 and October 2, there is not much emphasis on him, as the school follows the normal board syllabus.
The only grace is the people of this village have decided to open a museum in the five rooms of the original school to display the artefacts from Gandhi’s basic school — a Charkha, some cotton-cleaner, handheld wooden tools, watches and smaller implements.
What is the Tolstoy Farm?
The Tolstoy Farm was an experimental community living structure started by MK Gandhi in Transvaal, South Africa in 1910.
The emphasis of this experiment was upon simple communal living that included structured routine of work, schooling and imparting practical skills.
It also served as the headquarters of the satyagraha campaign. The children were schooled by Gandhi himself that included 3 hours of skill training such as gardening, cloth and sandal making and lessons in academics like history, geography, Math and writing.