A headmaster’s crusade against child labour in tribal Jharkhand
Arbind Kumar Tiwary, a headmaster of a government school in tribal dominated East Singhbhum district, is ensuring education to first generation learners of a particularly vulnerable tribal group.
Manoj Choudhary 12 July 2023 6:25 AM GMT
Tangrain (East Singhbhum), Jharkhand
Arbind Kumar Tiwary never really knows what is in store for him on a day at school. The 51-year-old is the headmaster in-charge of Utkramit Madhya Vidyalaya, a government school in the Santhal-dominated Tangrain village in East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand.
On some days, if he finds absentees, he heads to their home to find out why they are not at school, and takes them back with him.
Many of the students of the school belong to a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG), and are first generation learners who live in the Sabar Basti of the village.
Around 14 Sabar tribe families reside in this Basti, and before 2022, no child from here had ever been to school, even though the school was walking distance from where they lived.
“Due to my sustained efforts, six Sabar children took admission in class three in 2022, and they are now promoted to class four,” the 51-year-old teacher told Gaon Connection, proudly. He is especially happy because many of the children of the Sabar tribe were working as child labour.
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“My two sons, Deshuba Sabar and Doctor Sabar study in class four of the school. Two years ago Deshuba worked in a nearby village,” Soma Sabur, the father, told Gaon Connection.
Soma Sabur said that he was paid Rs 4,000 annually to let his son work there. When Arbind Tiwary came to know of it, he rescued the child and put him and his brother in school.
“Because of poverty and illiteracy, Sabar do not send their children to school and let them go and work as dangar (child labour) in order to augment the family income,” Soma Sabar added. But after his sons started school, other Sabar families have followed suit and are sending their children to school too.
Tiwary joined this school in 2017. He came here from Janta Madhya Vidyalaya in Chhota Gobindpur about 19 kilometres away from Tangrain. The school that had about 156 students when he joined, now has a strength of 257 students and six teachers. There are six students from the Sabar tribe who study at the school.
Supporting health of Sabar tribe
The Sabar community traditionally lives off forest produce, selling and using them to sustain themselves.
“I found their health care in a sad state of neglect. Most of them visited quacks and never went to government health centres,” said Tiwary.
According to him, there is rampant alcoholism, malnutrition and general lack of awareness amongst the tribal community.
“Mothers die young and fathers migrate in search of jobs leaving the children unattended and uncared for,” he said. Many of them are left in care of relatives who themselves are struggling to survive,” the headmaster pointed out.
Tiwary has taken it upon himself to spread awareness about health care too. He helps students and their families visit doctors at the health centres, and if need be, helps them get admitted to government hospitals, and monitors their recovery.
Sighrai Sabar of Sabar Basti had tuberculosis and instead of taking him to the hospital, family members were getting him treated from a quack. “Arbind Sir got me admitted to hospital and I am much better now,” Sighari told Gaon Connection.
Similarly, in 2014, he helped Thakur Murmu, a class five student of Janata Madhya Vidyalaya in Chhota Gobindpur. Thakur had no father and his mother made ends meet by selling rice beer. Thakur was very sickly and could not afford any medical treatment. Tiwary got him admitted in the hospital for some bone ailment, and the boy was cured.
Tiwary has received district level best teacher awards in 2020 and 2021.
A roof over their heads
With villagers help, Tiwary has also ensured free accommodation and food for students from Tangrain and other villages. They stay in rooms offered by local villagers and are looked after by them.
Of these, Ajit Sardar from Sidirsai village and three others have passed class eight from the Utkramit Madhya Vidyalaya, this year. Five students have already passed out before 2022 and three of them are still in school. These students were then helped to get admission into government high schools nearby. Tiwary said that he provides for their admission fees and other academic requirements.
Amal Kumar Dikshit, a teacher at the school, said the headmaster went out of his way to serve his students. “Under his leadership the school has achieved name and fame in East Singhbhum. And, all of us, his colleagues, try our best to support him in his mission,” Dikshit told Gaon Connection.
“The headmaster’s dedication and commitment towards his students has led almost all the village children to school. Tiwary ensures they are well looked after,” Ujawal Kumar, a resident of Tangrain, told Gaon Connection.
Rescuing child labourers
The education department also lauds the headmaster’s efforts. “Arbind Kumar Tiwary has played an important role in the development of the school. He has positively changed the academic atmosphere in rural areas,” Vinay Kumar Dubey, block education extension officer (BEEO) in Potka, West Singhbhum, told Gaon Connection.
“The education department appreciates his effort of rescuing children from child labour and setting them on the path of learning,” the official added.
Tiwary said he pledged to help his students as much as possible ever since he learnt of a student of his in Kalimati Madhya Vidyalaya who dropped out of school to work as child labour.
“I was aghast. I did not know it had happened and that deep regret that I could not help Bablu Munda, has remained with me,” said the headmaster. “I promised myself I would never let a child drop out of school if I could help it,” he added.
“A teacher can be a good teacher if only he or she is sensitive to humanity,” Tiwary said. “For me, I want to ensure all my students become good human beings before anything else. Academic qualifications can come later.”