MADHYA PRADESH: In the Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, a cremation ground has emerged as a unique school for the dropouts or those who can’t afford smart phone-led education in this pandemic era. Led by Assistant Professor of English Communication Manish Tiwari, a group of youngsters at Nariyawali Naka Muktidham run a Pathshala. Funded by local automobile showroom owner Manish Jain and other donors, including Sagar Municipal Commissioner RP Ahirwar, the Pathshala has been running since December last year under the banner ‘Mission Muktidham.’
It started with only three boys, but now boasts of 100 students. Their teachers are eight youngsters.
Tiwari is also an environmental activist who visited Muktidham in December last year to plant banyan, peepal and fruit saplings to ensure greenery at the cremation ground which could also shelter birds of wide variety. “When we were planting the saplings there, we saw three boys, picking up coins and makhana (fox nuts) near the bodies lined up for cremation. The three informed us they used the small “booty” as well as the remains of burnt wood from pyres for their families. They also utilized big bamboo sticks used to carry the bodies to the Muktidham for playing a local form of hockey,” Tiwari said.
Tiwari’s associate in Mission Muktidham, Shubham Kurmi recalls how they persuaded the three boys one of them was a school dropout while the others were students of Class IV and V to join them in the planting and also looking after the fresh saplings. “We encouraged them to become the first three students of our Mission Muktidham. When the residents of adjoining slums saw us teaching during the Covid peak, they also started sending their kids to the open air school,” says Tiwari.
Tiwari is joined by seven other young teachers. Among them are BA (final year) student Supriya Ahirwar, Shailesh Sahu, Amit Jain and Sardar Karan. They spend three hours a day (Monday-Friday) at the cremation ground teaching English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Mathematics and Science. The Sundays are special with five-hour special sessions on yoga, Zumba dance, aerobics and bhangra classes. The teachers also show on their laptops patriotic movies like Uri The Surgical Strike and Taare Zameen Par.
“The students are divided into three teams—Maharani Laxmi Bai team comprising 26 Class V to Class VIII girls, Maharana Pratap team consisting of 30-plus boys of Class V to Class VIII and 40-strong Team Subhash which has nursery to Class IV students. Painted with colourful messages by the Mission Muktidham team, the walls of the cremation ground also serve as the blackboards. They would also grow up as National Green Soldiers (NGS) as the drill before the class includes watering the 600-plus saplings. “Our students also create awareness among their slum dweller families about environment and water conservation as well as health and hygiene,” says Supriya Ahirwar.
The Pathshala’s first three students, Adarsh, Shubham and Bholu, not only feel proud but also tell how their lives have completely changed. “We didn’t go to school and spent the day picking up coins from the bodies and playing with the bamboo sticks. But now all that matters to us is to attend classes and take care of the saplings.
These sessions will help us in confidently attending the regular classes once the schools reopen,” says Adarsh. Their slum dweller parents feel good about their kids. “In the absence of this Pathshala, our kids too would have gone into gambling or ended up arranging funeral pyres or digging up graves. It has kindled a hope among these kids; they too think they would become teachers, doctors, engineers and even pilots,” says Shambhu, a slum-dweller.
Helping students since last December
Funded by local automobile showroom owner Manish Jain and other donors, including Sagar Municipal Commissioner RP Ahirwar, the Pathshala has been running since December last year
Yoga, aerobics, bhangra and cinema after studies
On Sundays, the kids are taught yoga, Zumba dance, aerobics and bhangra in five-hour special sessions. The teachers also show them inspirational and patriotic movies like Uri The Surgical Strike and Taare Zameen Par