Flower blossom in the Tea Garden of Dangi, West Bengal; Priya Kujur scores 90% in boards.

By The Colourboard Desk

"I want to do something different, different from others, I want to study more and more, endlessly," said Priya Kujur, a girl from Oraon tribe who scored 90% in her HSC results this year and is very hopeful for her future.

Priya is such a child who proved her merit besides being raised on a minimum wage from labouring into the Tea Gardens of Dangi, West Bengal.

During an interview with The Colourboard, Priya told that since childhood she wanted to become a teacher, as the only professions she knew were either of a tea garden labourer or a teacher and at any cost, she never wants to work in the tea gardens. She has seen how life of tribals have become; both men and women do hard labour in the tea gardens, and in the evening men get drunk and misbehave, whereas women have to do domestic work after coming home. There isn't any discussion on education or development in life; with no ambitions, people just live a non-progressive life.

But Priya is very ambitious, she has now decided to move out of her village for further studies, with her elder sister Ranjita who stays in Patna. Her sister couldn't continue her studies after her marriage post her second year BA. Priya considers her as her strongest support system and source of encouragement. Pursuing the dream of getting higher education, Priya now aspires to become an IPS officer.

A 16 years aged girl, a first-generation learner from her family and community, motivates her friends who tease her saying, she has an extra brain and ask her to help in their assignments; she replies them saying, "Everybody has same brains, it is just that we have to put it to use."

Both her parents Sumitra Kujur and Vijay Kujur worked in Tea gardens of Dangi all their life with a daily wage of only 170 rupees per day. That's the price of one tea packet in a household. How can someone feed their family and educate their children with such a little amount?

"I want to educate my daughter, she is very intelligent, she has learnt English too, but the main issue is the income problem", says Mr Vijay Kujur, who is now retired from the tea garden. He told that two years back all of a sudden he was called by the company manager one day and was asked to get retired the next day. He said, "I can work even now, I still have the strength in my body, but what can I do, the manager asked me not to come for work."

When asked about what age is fixed for retirement or did they give prior notice, maybe a month before or something? He said, "no specific age is told to us, I am an illiterate man, I cannot counter ask them anything."

He then tried to run a small 'sweet's shop' but that too has to be kept closed because of the lockdown amid Covid-19. He further added, "I don't know what do I do next for the educating my child, I just know, that I don't have to stop her here."

He said she could study until this point only because her school took the responsibility. Priya has studied in the Eklavya Model Residencial school, Nagrakata, West Bengal. The school which gave education to many poor tribal children and made them believe that they too can aim for big dreams, big goals in their lives.

Eklavya Model Residential School is a Government of India scheme for Indian tribals (ST/Scheduled Tribes) started in 1997-98, across India to ensure tribal students get access to quality education in the remote tribal areas. The institution gets funds entirely from the Central Government of India. EMRSs are set up in States/UTs with grants under Article 275(1) of the Constitution of India. The students in these schools are provided with scholarships, free food and hostels to stay.

Priya mentions that it was her principal, Major Chauhan, who took care of everything and thus she could focus on her studies.

"The school was unattended when I first came to the institution, no discipline, students were all roaming in chappals. There were covered food plates lying on each bed, later I got to know that students eat half food in breakfast and save half for lunch; The funds were being sent by the government, but the school wasn't able to manage them", said Major Amarjeet Singh Chauhan, Principal of Eklavya Model residential school, Nagrakata.

After Major Chauhan joined the school in 2012, he took care of the discipline in the school and that students get an interest in studying. He said, "It did make an impact, parents are sending their children to school, there seems a boost in the confidence of the students as well as their parents, as I have observed over these 8 years."

He says the number of such schools must be increased, admission should be opened to children from other marginalised communities too, so that these tribal children get an exploration with other cultures as well. They should be able to see the bigger competition from the school itself which otherwise comes suddenly after when they enter college life along with students from different background.

At present, there are Two hundred and twenty-six Eklavya Model Residential Schools functional across the country and Sixty-eight of them are affiliated to CBSE. As per the budget 2018-19, every block with more than 50% ST population and a tribal population of at least 20000, is proposed to have an Eklavya Model Residential School by the year 2022.

Like Priya, many tribal children are capable of studying and working but they're not given a chance to show their potential. Not everyone has the opportunity to get into schools like Eklavya Institution with free education. There are many seen and unseen dreams by these children but the necessary supplies aren't provided to them. Due to poor implementation of many schemes, they are still underdeveloped and deprived of education.

Priya says, tea garden labourer's lives need to be improved, she believes that education is very powerful, and it is indeed the only way to change her family's and community's life.

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