Children of Budhudehi, a Paharia Adivasi village in the Dumka district, prefer to graze cattle than study.
"The primary school in the village is closed as the teacher never comes to take classes, but children should not roam idle. So, we ask them to graze cattle instead," says Malti Paharia, a homemaker.
"Last year, we had the opportunity to enjoy classes, that too only for three-four days," said Budhan Pujahar (9), who is enrolled in Class III in the school. His classmates, Faku Paharia, Ravi Hansdak, echo Budhan, who all have turned cowboys for now.
Dulali Baski of the village said that besides grazing cattle, the kids have now started helping their parents in domestic chores and agriculture, while the youth have left the village in search of jobs.
In a letter to deputy commissioner Prasant Kumar, Ram Jivan Paharia, the Dumka district president of the Adim Janjati Vikash Samiti, an association of the vulnerable Paharia tribes, has urged to ensure arranging education at Budhudehi primary school, which has around 130 children. During early '60s, the school was set up for the children of Paharia tribes. Ram Jivan, in the letter, alleged that schoolteacher Ajit Kumar Singh prefers to stay at his house in neighbouring Bihar and never visits the school. "With tacit support of education department official, he, however, enjoys his regular salary," the letter said.
One has to walk more than 12km on a difficult stretch to climb Budhudehi on a hilltop, about 29km from Ranishwar block headquarters. The hilltop village consists of 58 Paharia families and 13 Santhal ones. Budhudehi — bordering Pasaliya in Jamtara's Kondohit block on the west and Rajnagar police station areas in Bengal's Birbhum district on the south — has become infamous for Maoist activities.
The Naxalites conduct training camps in the nearby Sonachara forest, on the other slope of the hill. Even block administration officials avoid visiting the village fearing Naxalite violence.
In December 2007, an eight-member team of Simi, a voluntary organisation, conducted a survey at Brindavani panchayat, while climbing on to the village. It had first highlighted the issue of the school's closure because of the teacher's absence.
Then Dumka deputy commissioner Mastram Meena, who had taken the issue seriously, decided to hold a janata durbar (public hearing) at Budhudehi. The hearing was organised at nearby Tarani village on January 28, 2008, after district officials found it hard to climb the hill and intelligence bureau sniffed Maoist presence in the locality.
Villagers from Budhudehi came down to narrate their plight before top-ranking district officials. District superintendent of education Rajiv Lochan had selected one unemployed youth from the village, Bijoy Puzahar, as a para-teacher of the school at the hearing itself.
Meena also had ordered the transfer of Ajit Kumar Singh from the school. But after Meena's transfer, nothing was done — Singh still enjoys his post and Puzahar did not get the para-teacher's job.
Lochan refused to comment. "I am out of Dumka. So I cannot speak on this," he told The Telegraph this afternoon.
Deputy commissioner Kumar was not available but sources in his office were unaware of the school. Asked the reason for closing of the school, Haridutt Thakur, the Ranishwar co-ordinator of block resource centre-cum-block education extension officer, said that appropriate action would be taken after conducting an inquiry.
Telegraph / June 20, 2009