Gandhi’s Champaran school on shaky ground

It has eight teachers on rolls, but only one had come to teach; even the headmaster is on leave

Gandhi’s Champaran school on shaky ground
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Afroz Alam Sahil

A dilapidated building, in Bhitiharva village of West Champaran in Bihar, stands on its last leg and looks like it would fall anytime. It looks more like a dumping place than a place of knowledge. It is a school, which was started by the father of our nation; Mahatma Gandhi.

While walking in, the empty classrooms with no desks or chairs stare starkly and then one sees students carrying their own plastic bags to sit.

The students can study up to Class VIII and after that there is no provision. There are 71 students in Class VIII, but only half of them are present on most days. Most of the students have no clue about Gandhi or the history of their own school. They neither know Saint Raut, who belonged to their village, nor the fact that Gandhi stayed at his home for a day and Kasturba for several days.

The students of this school are simply fans of Modi. When they were asked, ‘who killed Gandhi?’. They replied, ‘Nathuram Godse’. ‘Who was he?’, they replied, “Angrez (Britisher)”.

The only teacher available in school revealed that he had little knowledge about the history of the school. There are eight teachers on the school rolls, but only one had come to work and the headmaster was also on leave.

This was a school, which was established by Gandhi in 1917, after setting up another school in Baharwa, East Champaran. Following the setting up of this school, Gandhi had established another one in in Madhuban in 1918. These schools were set up by Gandhi to provide education along with training in spinning, carpentry, farming and weaving.

In his autobiography, Gandhi had written about the school, “In Champaran there is no lack of bamboo and grass. The school hut they had put up at Bhitiharva was made of these materials. Someone possibly some of the neighbouring planters’ men set fire to it one night. It was not thought advisable to build another hut of bamboo and grass. The school was in charge of Soman (Advocate Sadashiv Lakshman Soman) and Kasturbai. Soman decided to build a house, and thanks to his infectious labour, many co-operated with him, and a brick house was soon ready. There was no fear now of this building being burnt down. Thus, the volunteers with their schools, sanitation work and medical relief gained the confidence and respect of the village folk, and were able to bring good influence to bear upon them.”

The school had to be shifted to another campus in 1964, after the then education minister Zakir Hussain had visited the Ashram in 1959. He had sent a proposal to the government to improve the school’s condition.

The local Gandhian leader Anirudh Chaurasiya said, “The available land was not sufficient for the school. The first student of this school along with a few others had sold the land for it. Then the senior basic school was set up on those 5 acres land. The school is being run on the same land till now and the land comes under the purview of the Bihar government.’ But, the Bihar government has shown little interest in improving the condition of the school.

It is very interesting to note that Gandhi stressed on the employment-oriented education in 1937 and Dr Zakir Hussain had hoped to further this mission. The syllabus for basic education was prepared in the mentorship of Dr Zakir Hussain.

In 1939, 35 basic schools were set up in Vrindavan area by Prajapati Mishra and Ramesharan Upadhyaya with guidance from Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi mentions in his autobiography, ‘But things did not move as swiftly as I had wished, and I was unable to return to Champaran, with the result that the schools closed down one by one. My co-workers and I had built many castles in the air, but they all vanished for the time being.’

The schools set up by Gandhi are struggling to sustain themselves, but the RSS-led school, Saraswati Shishu Mandir, which began out of a rented space in Gorakhpur in 1952 has thousands of branches today.

The Alfred High School in Gujarat, where Gandhi studied, has been shut down after 164 years. The situation is grim all around the country; our education system needs an overhaul.

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