Dharampal Saini – The Educator Who Took Schools to Roots of Tribal Indian Lands

Now we are afraid to go far in the forest in case the wild life guards catch us….” A Tribal Quote

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Mushrooming of Educational institutes in urban and rural parts of India is an ongoing phenomenon. Chain of Educational trusts is busy with making Education a profitable service. While the rural and urban masses are having better access to education in current circumstances, one section of India is very much detached from the mainland, and it is Tribal communities of Naxalite affected regions.  Here is an inspiring story of 87-year-old Gandhian and staunch follower of social activist Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Mr. Dharampal Saini. He took the Herculean task of starting a school for tribal girls in the remotest part of Bastar district of Chhattisgarh state in the year 1970 and has accomplished successful execution of 37 schools of which 21 are for girls, and 16 are for boys in the current scenario. It is not an uphill task to open a chain of upmarket schools in urban and semi-urban localities, but to dream of running 37 schools in a Naxalite infested tribal land which had less than 1% literacy rate amongst girls is not a joke. ‘Tauji’ aka Dharampal Saini has achieved a phenomenal mission in past 47 years.

The Germination of Successful Social Service

Dharampal Saini was born in the year 1930 at a place called Dhar in Madhya Pradesh. His father was in the Horticultural department, and Dharampal was second among four siblings. During his schooling, he came across an inspiring teacher called Vidyasagar Pandey, who took him to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Being a student of Pandey teacher was the turning point in Dharampal’s life. Slowly and steadily the social activist within him started to germinate. Incidentally, he came in contact with Acharya Vinoda Bhave, who guided him to take part in Gandhian movements. Thus he started associating with various Gandhian Institutes. Bhil Seva Sangha was one such institute active those days in Madhya Pradesh to help Bhil tribal community with which he got associated.

A Newspaper Article about Tribal Girls 

In the year 1960 Mr. Saini happened to read an interesting piece of write up in a newspaper, which highlighted the manner in which few tribal girls of Bastar region hacked some miscreants to death for eve teasing them on their way from a local festival. Saini was taken aback by the strength of these tribal girls. He decided to channelize these girls’ potential in right direction by providing them formal education. In 1960s Bastar was a complete Jungle with not even a glimpse of civilization. Mr. Saini expressed his willingness to start a school/ashram in Bastar region with his Guru Vinoba Bhave. His guru was initially reluctant to his disciple’s idea. But Saini persuaded his master to agree finally, but it was with a condition.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave took a commitment from his ward that he should stay at the ashram personally for minimum ten years so that the ashram gets proper attention and extends its roots deeply in the region to gain stability. Saini took this as a mission decided to stay a lifelong bachelor and accomplish his mission of empowering tribal girls.

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Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram Incepted

With blessings from his guru and his introduction letter to Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Mr. Shyama Charan Shukla, Mr. Saini kick started his mission to start the ashram with an initial donation of 5 rupees given by his guru. He planned to name the ashram after Vinoba Bhave’s mother, Rukmini Devi. The Govt. provided him land to start his operations at a remote place called Dimrapal, which was situated at 11 km distance from the Jagdalpur district headquarters.

80 Student capacity School and 1% literacy rate       

In December 1976, Saini with the help of two women teachers started the Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram. But persuading and cajoling the tribal parents to send their children to school was a hurricane task. The authorities who gave permission for 80 student school laughed at him telling procuring eight students will also be an impossible goal. Saini went to Tribal’s doorsteps to create awareness about the importance of educating girls. He finally made a master plan of imparting the students with skills of agricultural practices along with formal education. Finally, after facing three months of ridicule, he could convince four parents to send their wards to school. Thus school started its operation in an area that had less than 1% literacy rate.

Further Saini had to face stiff opposition from the Naxal groups who are against any sort of development.  Without losing calm from their threats of violence, he successfully opened his next school in Barsur, in the inaccessible Naxal-infested area. This commitment motivated the Govt. to provide him with more resources and land. Even govt. handed over nearly 30 schools operated by them to his custody.

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Inclination for Rigorous Sports Activity  

Mr. Saini gained the confidence of the tribal community, and many parents started admitting their wards to the school. Soon he also realized immense stamina of these girls and initiated Yoga Classes. But advice from a good wisher from the local community who knew the types of hardships these girls bear day in day out, he decided to train them in sports and athletics. Soon many girls from Rukmini Devi Ashram started reputation in National athletic meets.

Mr. Saini, also takes care that these girls are provided with the proper supplement of nutritious food to excel in sports activity. He admits that though the Non-vegetarian food is prohibited in Gandhi school of thought, Instead these girls are provided with jaggery, cereals, milk, complan, dry-fruits and other healthy food. Mr. Saini, who is fondly addressed as Tauji by the people around Bastar area gets delighted whenever a new trophy or medal won by his students decorate racks in his abode.

Recently it is quoted in media by one of the girls that their single point agenda is to make Tauji proud by bagging as many medals as possible. Most girls opine that playing sports at its best help them to forget all the miseries like Naxalism as sports help them to visit cities like Delhi and have a glimpse at Prime minister’s and president’s house.

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Today Mata Rukumni Ashram has in its fold nearly 37 Schools, and Mr. Dharampal Saini is a social activist and social entrepreneur and has taken the education to the grass roots of this Nation called Tribals. Kalam Fan Club is proud of this incredible human being at the age of 87 contributing to the society with his meaningful mission.

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