Monday, April 10, 2017

Padyatra to Champaran by the Pratham Bihar team – March-April 2017

Exactly a hundred years ago, in April 1917, India witnessed its first ‘satyagraha’ under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi later became ‘Mahatma’ and ‘satyagraha’ translated into a nationwide mass movement. The place that was witness to this first ‘satyagraha’ was Champaran, a remote rural indigo growing area in the north-west corner of Bihar bordering Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. To celebrate the centenary year of this historic movement, a series of events are currently happening in Bihar.

The first day of the Padayatra at Patna

The Pratham team in Bihar chose a unique way to pay tribute to the Father of the Nation – through a “shikshagraha” - a “walk for education”! Gandhi always emphasized ‘buniyadi shiksha’ or ‘basic education.’ He also believed that education would make an individual ‘swavlambi’ or self-reliant. To remind people and to revive this message about basic education, the Pratham team undertook a 264 km long walk or “padayatra”. The journey took 15 days; their route took them from Patna, across the Ganga to Vaishali, then Muzaffarpur, East Champaran and finally to what today is West Champaran. This ‘Shikshagrah Padyatra’ began on 22nd March from the Gandhi Sangrahalay in Patna and concluded at Bhitiharwa Ashram, where Kasturba and Gandhi had lived, in West Champaran on April 5.

The map of the 264 km long Padayatra 

The Yatra team members were -Dilip Kumar, Jaglal Ram, Amresh Kumar, Amar Kumar, Mohommad Mudassir Alam, Dinesh Kumar, Ram Shankar Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Shivkant Tiwari, Gunjan Kumar Gupta and Sanjay Kumar.
The objective of the yatra was to interact with villagers, representatives of the Panchayati Raj, teachers, parents, self-help groups of women, understand their views and perspectives on children’s education and discuss the key importance of schooling and learning in today’s times. In addition to these discussions, the team also demonstrated some basic techniques of learning language and maths, They also spoke extensively about Gandhi’s thoughts and values. Daily, the team along with villagers from the village that they were in, together read sections from Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth.

The idea of this padayatra came from within the Pratham team in Bihar. It was unanimously agreed that this was the best way to reach the masses and discuss Gandhi’s ideas of basic education. In many ways, Gandhi’s views align well with Pratham’s philosophy and work. The team plotted the physical route carefully, figuring out what would be their daily destinations and night halts. Mentally, they began preparing for what they would do and what they hoped to learn during this journey.

Padayatris undergoing health check-up. It was a very long route! 
Typically, the day for the team would start before dawn, and after a few moments of reflection and prayer, they would start walking. Soon slogans related to education would start followed by singing Gandhi’s favourite bhajans. Curious onlookers would want to know who these people were and what they were doing. This would lead to discussions and debates on the need for a strong basic education, basic reading, arithmetic and learning for children and also on Gandhi’s views on this issue. Everywhere, villagers welcomed the padayatris and engaged in discussions wholeheartedly. The Pratham team focused on the difference between merely going to school and actually learning and getting educated.

The villagers, at times, would say that they have done their part by sending children to school and now it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach. In such a situation, our team would work patiently and convince them about how their mindset and approach needs to change and how they as parents and community members need to get involved actively. In some villages, the villagers would get annoyed when our team members used to ask some of the children to read or solve arithmetic sums. However, repeated conversations would ultimately make people realize that it is only with a strong foundation, that children in their village will be able to go ahead. And that this universal basic learning is needed not just for their own children but for all children in the village.

Pledge for quality education
The team observed that people, especially youth are programmed to think that a government job is the only way for a secure future. There is a lack of awareness about possible other different opportunities out there. In some villages, 12 -13-year-old children - sons and daughters of small farmers and landless labourers - were seen working in fields to support the family. On asking in more detail, our team often found that the children’s schooling was stopped as they were not making any progress. The Pratham team stressed the importance of buniyadi shiksha. If the children had learned to read and do basic arithmetic, they would have developed and progressed on their own; and been able to develop the confidence to deal with the bigger world around them! 

Sanjay and Shailendra, our experienced colleagues from Team Bihar recall that women in most of the villages they visited were keen to know about education and the opportunities for their children. While men were keen to discuss politics and daily happenings, the baton of education was firmly in the hands of women! On the ninth day of the march, a curious onlooker from Pipra Kothi village asked the team members which caste they belonged to. Everyone was unanimous in their reply that their caste and religion are education and we have abandoned our caste and religious identities for this larger cause!

The Padayatra concluded at Bhitiharwa, District Pashchim Champaran

Are the villagers aware of Gandhi and his significant contribution towards the country? Sanjay replies that they are but they only know a few things. School children are aware that he brought us freedom, whereas the youth sees him as an influential figure. Some small children also related him to currency notes! But, everyone did lend a patient ear to the team when they talked about his principles of buniyadi shiksha and swavlamban.

So what does the team feel after the successful completion of the Padayatra?

Most of them agree that this amazing experience has come with a huge amount of learning. One of the big things they learned is that we have to listen to people and their problems about their life. Often their basic needs are not met, like health, food and shelter. This along with their daily struggle for livelihoods is an obstacle in supporting their children’s education. The team felt that it is critical that all Pratham teams interact much more with the people whose children they work with and try to understand and relate to their issues. It is not that people are not serious about education if we expand our reach and understanding about these issues, then we will be able to help them support their children's learning much more. 

The inspiration
The padayatris met many people en route who are ready to work for the cause of education. The team has planned to engage with them and provide them with the necessary support so that they start work in their villages. This, as Sanjay, the leader of the team says, is the ‘biggest lesson from the grassroots Journey'. Going forward, Gandhi’s words which motivated the team to start the Padayatra will continue to drive their efforts in going forward. The “march for education” will continue.

Gandhiji ka yehi tha kehna,
Anpadh bankar kabhi na rehna


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  2. Really amazing thoughts behind 'Padyatra' and great leaning and experience for 'Padyatries', villagers and others.
    Thanks for summarizing it in few selected words.

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