The school in Jharkhand, where Birsa Munda studied, is today in dire straits

On Jharkhand day today, the tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda is remembered with pride. But the school he went to in Chaibasa is struggling to stay afloat. The classrooms where he studied are gone, and along with that has disappeared a significant chunk of historical heritage. Local administration promises to look into the matter.

Manoj ChoudharyManoj Choudhary   15 Nov 2022 8:48 AM GMT

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The school in Jharkhand, where Birsa Munda studied, is today in dire straits

Birsa Munda’s memory is preserved in an old hostel building from his time, which is now a youth centre. Photos by Manoj Choudhary

Chaibasa (Jharkhand)

Jharkhand celebrates its 22nd year of its formation on the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, the freedom fighter who belonged to the Munda tribe, who was born in 1875 on November 15 and died at the young age of 24 in 1900 in jail, imprisoned by the British.

One of the landmark's of the freedom fighter's life was the Lutheran Middle School in Chaibasa in West Singhbhum district in Jharkhand was where he studied till 1888. The school still stands, but the classroom where the folk hero sat and learnt, has disappeared altogether, and with it has disappeared a valuable part of tribal and Indian history.

The Lutheran Middle School was established in 1868 and it was then known as the Upper Primary Lutheran School, run by Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church South East Diocese. The class room where Birsa Munda studied was one big hall where four classes ran simultaneously. But neglect and the vagaries of weather rendered the old building dangerous and it was demolished in 2014.

"The old building was made of brick, mud and khapra, and over the years the structure had weakened and there was a very real danger of it collapsing," Esther Aind, head master-in-charge of Lutheran Middle School told Gaon Connection.

Despite it being a school where the tribal hero studied, the local residents prefer to send their children to other schools.

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Birsa Munda was born in Ulihatu village of present Khunti district, and he breathed his last in jail in Ranchi on June 9, 1900. He stood up to the atrocities of the British government towards the tribal inhabitants of the area and had mobilised the youth to rebel. He urged the tribals not to pay taxes to the British government. A large number of Munda and other tribal youth joined his anti-British movement.

After independence, the school, from being an upper primary school, was converted into middle school. Students from classes one to six were taught there while class seven being added in 2013. The classes were held in the same hall where Birsa Munda studied.

"The new building has been constructed on the plot of the old building that was razed down," Esther Aind said. She said that the old hostel where Birsa Munda and his fellow students had stayed was now a youth centre where several programmes were conducted.

An old photograph of the school in which Birsa Munda once studied.

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"The old hostel construction remains what it was over a hundred years ago," Esther Aind added.

No takers for Birsa Munda's old school

There are 238 students in the school today including 14 girls. Despite it being a school where the tribal hero studied, the local residents prefer to send their children to other schools.

The school is struggling to function as less number of students are enrolling while the state government has sanctioned six teaching posts, only four are filled. One teacher died in 2013 and the previous headmaster retired in 2019.

The school hired more teachers, but during the pandemic it could not pay them regularly, and they left.

But the students who do study there say they are inspired by the thought that their learning is happening exactly where Birsa Munda received his education.

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"I want to join the Indian Army and serve the country just like Birsa Munda did," Vivek Mukhi, a student of class seven, told Gaon Connection. His classmate Vidya Purty wanted to do the same too.

"I feel happy that I study in the same classroom where Birsa Munda had studied. Though the old building does not exist, place is the same,"Mukhi pointed out. Many of his students expressed the same desire to serve the motherland just like their hero Birsa Munda, Rameshwar Banra, a teacher in the school, told Gaon Connection.

Lack of facilities

"Though the school has its historic significance, it is facing problems in its day to day running and has a lot of financial hurdles that come in the way of it functioning smoothly," Mascalan Barla, chairman of the school management committee, told Gaon Connection. He said providing computers, up to date labs, etc. for the students was proving to be difficult. "Local industrialists, administration and intellectuals' help is needed to preserve and protect the heritage," he sid. "Till 2014, no one stepped forward to repair and restore the old historic structure," he pointed out.

Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh at the historic class room during his visit to Lutheran Middle School in July, 2012.

Listing the facilities the school urgently required, Barla said, "There is no separate room where the students can eat their Mid Day meals; there are no computers and the school also lacks a boundary wall. And there are just two toilets that are insufficient," he added. According to him the district administration had been apprised of the situation, but there had been no response so far.

In 2012, the then rural development minister of the Government of India, Jairam Ramesh visited the school and had directed the district administration's attention to it. In 2018, the then commissioner of Kolhan division, Vijoy Kumar Singh visited and had asked the school management committee to present its requirements. But nothing came of it, Barla said.

"There is a lack of interest among departmental officials and such negligence towards protecting this heritage of Jharkhand. How will local residents be motivated to send their children here," said Moon Datta, a local resident.

Birsa Munda statue at a square in Chaibasa in West Singhbhum.

Administration promises help

It was a matter of regret that the building where Birsa Munda studied could not be preserved, said Ananya Mittal, deputy commissioner of West Singhbhum. "However, we will direct the education department to pay special attention to the school as it is a matter of pride and heritage for the State and the nation," he told Gaon Connection.

"We will try and ensure that the hostel is repaired and restored without tampering too much with the original structure," Mittal said.

He gave the assurance that the administration would provide help to the school management committee and steps would be taken to preserve the school and its history. "There will be no more negligence and the school will get its due government support," he said.

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