It was dark when we stepped outside of our room. The sun had set, leaving behind its radiance that spoilt the blue pallette of the sky. I was quieter than usual, perhaps trying to calm and prepare myself for our 4km march. All the conversations and suggestions were reappearing in my head.
You should not go Sharmishtha. It is how this place is, even the locals do not step out after-dark. Why do you want to put your life at risk? Didi, it is not safe to travel that side during late hours. It is very dangerous, you might encounter a group of drunk lads or you might get robbed. I would never travel like that.
My pace was very swift, I wanted to run but I was supposed to keep up with the rest of my group. Luckily it was a full moon night and the inky road was somehow visible. A slight flutter in the shrubs would get me thinking about the presence of a snake, I was greeted by the laughter of a group of boys who had just finished drinking and made comments as we walked past them also on my I screamed twice for reasons I was not quite sure about. Finally we reached the place for where we had started. It was a big ground, with a huge tree in the middle. The moonlight fell on the silhouette of a building that stood at one end of the ground. The building was the primary school of the Aadi Pipali village in Kotda.
The area around that school looked quite dreary and the place was so quiet that the only noise I could hear for sometime was the sound of silence. However a few blinks later we heard a clamour from one direction. दीदी ! भैया ! आज आने में इतनी देर कैसे लगा दी ? कबसे आप लोगों का इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं । जल्दी से हमें कक्षा की चाबी दो । The children opened the classroom, unfolded the thick carpet, lit the solar powered lights and sat down in groups with their notebooks and pens. Soon more people started coming in. There were children, adolescent girls, married women, and adults from the village. They all had come for their night classes, the same reason for why I had gone there.
The Night School initiative is started by Abhishek Tiwari who is a fellow in Kshamtalaya. A passionate chap from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Abhishek was very clear about how he wanted to approach the system of Kotda. He started with the night school in September 2018 after being approached by youngsters, who had walked out of schools, during his multiple community visits.
During my community visits I would often find young boys and girls grazing their cattle, doing other chores. I wanted to create a space for them, where they can learn basics of Mathematics and language. I was also approached by few adolescent boys who were drop outs but they wanted to learn. This is how we started it. Soon the place opened a space for the other members of the community as well. Now you would often find parents of the children learning with them, or people discussing about the problems in their village at 9 in the night and even the youngsters who would be often found drunk during this time have started coming to the Night School to participate in community dialogues. – Abhishek
Abhishek recieved helping hands from the community as well as the acting principal of the school Ms. Parvati ma’am. During its inception days it was mostly the children from the primary school who would come at night, but slowly and slowly the momentum picked up. Today there are approximately 40 people who attend the Night School which includes children, youngsters and young adults.
Parvati ma’am and the community have a huge role to play in this. The people have been very supportive and motivating. The best part is that the Night School is run by the members of the community as well. There are a few young boys who help me in this Learning Initiative by teaching the girls and the children. You would also find parents coming to check their kids. The love that the community has offered me is immense. They take care of my dinner and almost everyday I get food from atleast two households.
Even though the initiative has received a positive response from the community, it hasn’t been a smooth sailing journey for the Night School. The village of Aadi Pipali and its neighbouring group of villages are referred as Pakistan by the local people. The area is quite volatile and a lot of incidents about theft, robbery, murders are reported on and off. People from the community do not usually come out of their houses after dark and the local transports stop after the sunset. In another incident a dead body of a drunk man was found near the school. The man belonged to a different village and was staying in Aadi Pipali at his wife’s home. The death created a lot of tension within the community as the villagers had to pay मौताणा to the family of the deceased and between all this there was no Night School for almost a week.
There is no electricity in the village. The children earlier used to get torches from their houses to light the place.
Children used to study under torch lights and phone lights which was neither healthy nor sustainable. As an alternative to this we purchased four solar powered lamps for the Night School. However this still is not sustainable as the number of members are increasing everyday and four lights are just not enough.
The higher authority also does not seem very pleased with the initiative and Abhishek was asked to bear the accountability of Night School on his own. According to the officials the government had started night schools previously in various villages however the people of Kotda are just not ready for a change. With all these challenges in place the Night School is still up and running. The initiative has received much attention and appreciation and the talks are on for opening a new one in a nearby village.
By the end of night as we gathered around the huge tree in the middle of the ground to wrap the day’s activities, the fear inside me had succumbed. The exchange of knowledge, dialogue, smiles had taken its place and also a few lines in the local language like ऊँघ आवे तो हुई जावो (sleep if you feel like) or रेमिना आवजो (come and play). As we stood under the tree, in the milky light of the bright moon, forming a circle, with each other’s hands tightly clamped, all I could think was:
The challenges still remain,
The people still drink,
The roads still look dreary and deserted;
But a sound is being heard, a distant rumble,
A flicker of light can be seen coming from a ghostly facade,
There is movement and there is tension,
And it seems that a history is in the making.