West UP: Bhim Pathshalas give fillip to both education and Dalit movement

The Bhim Army-run Bhim Paathshala schools, where small children are taught about the struggle of Dalit leaders, have proved popular and are now rapidly expanding in western Uttar Pradesh

NH Photo by Vishwadeepak
NH Photo by Vishwadeepak

Biswajeet Banerjee

For Bhim Army, the philosophy of “Catch them young” is earning dividends. It's Bhim Pathshala schools, where small children are taught about the struggle of Dalit leaders and how they are being subjugated by people of other castes, have become so popular that the number of Bhim Pathshalas is growing fast in western Uttar Pradesh.

Initially, when the Bhim Army was starterd by co-founder Chandra Shekhar Azad in July 2015 in Saharanpur, the pathshalas were conceived of as just two-hour classes after regular school, to educate young children about the Dalit movement, far away from the glaring eyes of people, politicians and media.

The children showed interest when they were told about the hardships of Dalit leaders like Dr BR Ambedkar and Sant Valmiki, and gradually these two hour classes transformed into separate schools, Kamal Walia, District President of Bhim Army in Saharanpur told National Herald.

“This was done in very articulate manner. The children, in their formative years, love to listen to stories. We picked up instances of the lives of Ambedkar and Valmiki and presented them in form of interesting stories. This worked,” he said.

These Pathshalas were open to only Dalit children, but students from other caste are also welcome. The education is free and volunteers of the Bhim Sena play the role of teachers. “The objective was to ensure that Dalit children do not miss out on education in their formative years. I have no hesitation to accept that this movement is gaining momentum in western Uttar Pradesh, particularly in districts like Meerut, Agra and Muzaffarnagar,” Walia said, adding that 1,000 such pathshalas would be opened across the state.

The Bhim Pathshalas are turning out to be social reform, as Kamal Walia, District President of Bhim Army in Saharanpur, says that Dalit families are now coming forward with their contribution. Some are giving ₹50 per month, some ₹200 and some ₹300. Everyone is chipping in as per their capacity. “The teachers are graduate or post-graduate, but we do not pay them a penny. They are voluntarily taking classes,” said Walia

“Apart from regular academics, like science and math, we also make the children aware about Bhim Army, about the struggles, lives and thoughts of all great leaders who took a stand for the poor and the oppressed,"  Walia said.

This is turning out to be social reform as Walia says that Dalit families are now coming forward with their contribution. Some are giving ₹50 per month, some ₹200 and some ₹300. Everyone is chipping in as per their capacity. “The teachers are graduate or post-graduate, but we do not pay them a penny. They are voluntarily taking classes,” he said.

A rough estimate suggests that monthly cost of running these schools is something between ₹1,500 to ₹3,000 depending on number of students, as these students are given stationery and books.

These schools are also imparting political message in a subtle way because students greet teachers with ‘Jai Bhim’ and when they are asked any question they start the answer only after salutation of 'Jai Bhim’ and once they end their answer they again say 'Jai Bhim’.

Are these schools an answer to RSS’s Vidya Bharati?

“I am here not to compare RSS and Bhim Army. We have are our mission and they have theirs,” said Walia.

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