In the forests of Panna, a govt school teacher’s day begins with taking a dip in spring water, with his students
For the past twenty years, Lakshman Singh Rajgond has made the under-resourced village of Bilhata, located deep in the forests of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, his home and his karmbhoomi.
Arun Singh 19 Jan 2023 7:49 AM GMT
Bilhata (Panna), Madhya Pradesh
Lakshman Singh Rajgond is from Shahdol district in Madhya Pradesh. Twenty years ago, in 2002, the government school teacher got posted over 250-kilometre away at Prathmik Shala (primary school) in Bilahta, a tribal village located in the dense forests of the Panna Tiger Reserve.
Whereas his colleagues saw the posting as a ‘punishment’ because reaching the village involves a trek of eight to 10 kilometres through thick jungles where wild animals roam freely, Singh took up the challenge of educating the adivasi children whose parents are unlettered and have never attended any school.
Thanks to the efforts of 50-year-old Rajgond, who has chosen to live in the forest village for the past 20 years in order to teach the children and help them to transit into mainstream education, Bilhata is now a transformed village. Alongwith Hindi, the 49 tribal children enrolled at the village school now read, write and speak in English too.
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“I joined the school in 2002 and have been here ever since. I enjoy teaching the children here. The adivasi people in the village are peace loving, uncorrupted, and a contented lot, despite the lack of facilities and physical comforts,” the teacher told Gaon Connection. Bilhata is his second posting, his first posting was in Barachh village of Panna.
Bilhata, which is located about 60 kms away from the district headquarters at Panna has about 90 tribal families living there. Because of the tough terrain, officials from the district administration seldom visit the village. But, despite several challenges, Rajgond has made the tribal village as both his home and his karmbhoomi.
“For years, I even lived in the school premises. But about three years ago, at night, a tiger made itself comfortable in the school courtyard, after which I preferred to stay in the village with other villagers,” Rajgond said.
Forging a close bond
There are just two teachers at the Prathmik Shala and both live in the village, Rajgond said. “My fellow teacher, Pratap Kushwaha is from Tara Jharkua village in Panna, and he joined the school just a few years ago,” he said.
The day at the school begins with the students and teachers taking a dip in a small natural spring about a kilometre away, in the midst of the forest. After which the children go home for breakfast while the teachers cook at the school and have some themselves. The lessons soon begin.
Nine-year-old Arvind Gond who is in class four, read out a passage confidently from an English text book and had no trouble spelling the English words or explaining their meanings. Arvind’s classmates Hargovind Gond and Bharati Gond read aloud and fluently, too.
There was pride in his voice as the 50-year-old teacher said, “Despite being poor and having no real facilities, the children here are diligent and want to learn. Students in class two of our school can do maths calculations, tell multiplication tables and read Hindi books. The class four and five students read fluently, and are well versed in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.”
“There was an impact on the progress of the students due to COVID pandemic, but they are mostly back on track,” he added.
After school hours, both the teachers visit the families of the school children and hold free extra classes for those who need help.
Serving their village
One of the students who Lakshman Singh taught, is now doing his Masters. “My student Phool Chand Gond is studying in Maharaja College at Chatrapur. And another student Deepa Gond is a graduate too, and now a social worker,” the proud teacher said.
“I am associated with a social organisation that works with 10 villages in this forest area. We are trying to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates here, and looking into addressing nutrition matters,” Deepa Gond told Gaon Connection. Deepa is associated with Project Koshika that works on maternal and infant health in Panna district.
According to Deepa, things have improved greatly in the areas of health and nutrition. “Compared to earlier days, women are more aware now about health and nutrition issues and many of them are planting vegetable gardens around their own homes and in vacant spaces. The vegetables that they grow has led to an improvement in their health and the health of their children,” she said.
“It is because I am educated that I can do something for my village. If Lakshman Sir or Pratap Sir were not there to teach us at school, we would have remained in the dark, uneducated and ignorant,” Deepa said with emotion.
“Bilahata is a perfect example of co-existence, where humans and wild animals live and let live. They even share the same water source for drinking water,” said Rajgond.