Community Correspondent Gyanti Devi made a video that resulted in a man donating his land for the expansion of a school building. She tells us how she achieved this staggering impact, which will potentially benefit 200 children from the Musahar community (also known as Maha Dalit); the most disenfranchised in India.
The New Primary School at Khairva Village, Bihar brought with it many hopes when it opened its doors to the children of the Musahar community about seven years ago. In the time since, the temporary structure hasn’t been expanded, nor has any infrastructure been brought in—no play material, no drinking water, no toilets.
“On a visit to film the neglect at the school, I found that the root cause of the problem was the unavailability of land. I decided this was going to be the issue I would document; and getting land would be the goal of my video,” says Gyanti who makes regular visits to this village which is 18 kilometres from her own home.
“The school had been started in the local community centre of the village. The intention had been to expand it when some more land was allotted. In the scheme of things it is the Block Office that does a survey and identifies potential land that could be used to build a school on. But here none of that had happened.
The teacher, Mr Ram Parvesh, is a very dedicated man. He had almost lost hope of ever getting his students a decent education. Once I made the video we talked to many members of the community about the importance of finding a piece of land and about getting the school fixed. They agreed of course, but didn’t know what to do,” Gyanti explains.
There was in fact a fallow piece of land right next to the community centre. It belonged to one Mr Ram Babu who had till then been only dimly aware of the situation at hand. Even before becoming a Community Correspondent, Gyanti has been rooted in social work to change things for the MusaharCommunity. She is well versed with what it takes to break the status quo. She says:
“Ram Babu’s land suited the school’s needs perfectly. It was only a fraction of an acre but a good starting point. I met him and his elderly father several times. Our conversations ranged from persuasion to wheedling him. I went on tell him of the futures he would improve with the school; the legacy that he would leave behind. I also showed him an interview I had taken of a young boy with eager eyes, longing for a shot at a decent education.
While talking to Ram Babu I realised that I wasn’t just making polite chit-chat to win him over. I genuinely believe that education is the only way the children of my community will get out of the rut we’ve been stuck in for generations. I’m not sure what finally convinced him. Was it the thought of a legacy or a genuine concern? I will never know.”
Among the major hurdles for the community is the abysmal literacy rate of 3.7% for men and 1.3% for women. To be born a Musahar means to have a social stigma foisted on one. In any village they are ghettoised to a Musahartola, like the one in Khairva. Most eke out a living working as landless farmers or bonded labourers. Recently elected Jitan Ram Manjhi, is Bihar’s first Musahar Chief Minister and emphasized the need to get education into the communities.
Having convinced Ram Babu to donate his land, Gyanti and Ram Parvesh the teacher, went about getting the paperwork sorted. They followed up with the Circle Officer at the Block Office who made sure that the land deeds were in place and that the land was transferred to the school.
“I do feel happy that we’ve been able to achieve this but we still have a hurdle to get over. The entire community is eager to get the construction of the school building started but are now waiting for the funds to come through from the Block Office. And this is the part that is exasperating: Now having gone through the entire process of convincing someone to give up their land, we’re stuck in a bureaucratic loophole once again. The parents of these children cannot afford private schools or tuitions. To even convince them that an education is worthwhile is challenging. They need a solid government education system because it is the only one they can afford at this time.”
Change comes slowly to some parts of the world and in that schema small changes make up a big change. Gyanti and the community in Khairva Musahar Tola continue to battle it out for the rights for their children. Says Gyanti:
“It is my duty to this community I was born in to make lives better for the future generations. And I will keep filming and doing whatever I can to make that change come,” Gyanti tells me, hope spilling across a crackling phone line.