After six cases of branding of babies by traditional healers came to the light in Odisha’s Keonjhar district in the last ten days, the administration launched an awareness campaign urging people, especially tribals, to shun the superstitious practice.Despite being one of the richest districts of the country, Keonjhar has very poor health infrastructure.While four cases of branding of babies emerged from the Banspal area, one each was reported from the Keonjhar, Sadar and Harichandanpur blocks of the district. Although branding did not result in any death, two seriously ill infants were shifted to Cuttack.Tribals usually look up to traditional healers whenever infants or kids develop stomach ailments. The traditional healers then brand stomachs with a hot iron nail. It is one of the crudest forms of dealing with childhood illness.“Apart from pictorial advertisements on walls, we have directed all ASHA workers and anganwadi workers to counsel people against branding of babies,” said Kabindra Prasad Sahoo, Chief District Medical Officer of Keonjhar.
Pune: When Bapusaheb Jangam visits his grandsons, he clambers down from the clifftop Raireshwar fort in Pune’s Bhor tehsil, where the family lives, to Aasra, a village at the base. The boys moved there for their Class VIII studies because the school in the fort has classes only up to Class VII, and it would be a tough daily walk. Though Jangam is remarkably fit, and has been making this trek since he was a child, it takes him 50 minutes downslope. This makes him sad about the younger kids in Raireshwar.The Maharashtra government’s education department has decided to close down zilla parishad schools with less than 10 students; this will affect approximately 1,300 schools, including the tiny one in the fort. According to the department — and Education minister Vinod Tawde has stated this too — low student numbers means that quality of education is poor. The students will be accommodated in ‘nearby’ schools.RTE ground rulesThe Right to Education Act says that the distance between a primary school and the house of a student must be less than one km till Class V, and less than 3 km from Class VI to VIII. But the Raireshwar children will now have to go to Rairi school, 35 km away. “It will take them at least two hours,” says Jangam. “Why are they doing this? Have those officers come for inspection at least once before taking this decision? Can these poor kids leave their homes and relocate closer to the school?”Raireshwar fort — where in 1645, the then-16-year-old Shivaji took an oath to found a Maratha empire —houses a hamlet of around 150 residents, mainly farming families.“I park my bike at the base of the fort and climb up the iron stairs,” says Arvind Shinde, the only teacher at the Raireshwar school “The kids will have to walk five kilometres down the mountain, then another 35 km to their school. It will be impossible in the monsoon.” Mr. Shinde fears that his 10 students will be forced to stop their education because of the arduous walk.The Hindu encountered two other primary schools on the plateau, in similar isolated hamlets: Malwadi (Raireshwar) with one student and Keshavnagar (Dhanvali) with three students. As with the fort school, these too will soon close, and the students will have to walk to Rairi village.Keshavnagar sits on a cliff, three kilometres further across the plateau. Its ‘basti-school’ was set up in 2001 to serve the 20 to 25 Mahadev-Koli (a Scheduled Tribe) families there. It too has a single teacher, Tulshiram Wagmare, who parks his motorcycle at Kankwadi village at the base of the cliff and walks for an hour up the path, which passes through a forest. He once lived here, but he moved his family to Bhor; he comes here to teach because he feels a commitment to the community. “Their parents are not educated,” he says. “Forget Rairi, they will not even allow these kids to come down to the closest school, at Khalchi Dhanivali. Who would want a Class I girl to walk through the forest for one or two hours daily?” Mr. Wagmare’s students include Sonal and Pratiksha Dhanavale, who are in Class I and III. On the day this reporter visited, heavy rain, the after-effect of Cyclone Ockhi, had made Keshavnagar unapproachable. “In the monsoon, even I stay on top because it is impossible to climb down. How can you expect little kids to do this?”Arduous trekFormer students from these schools say that while they had to walk down from the plateau to secondary school, at least their primary school was close by, which won’t be the case for the young ones now. “It takes at least two hours through a dense forest,” says Sonali Kank, who now studies in a college at Bhor. “Even we never walk that path alone. How will their parents send them down? It will end their education.” Rahul Dhanvale, from Khalchi Dhanivali, mid-way between Kankwadi and Keshavnagar, now a Class XI student in a school in Bhor, says. “I am an expert on walking these roads. But mud, rocks and steep slopes drain your energy. Why should those kids suffer?”The teachers and parents with whom The Hindu spoke requested not to be named, out of fear of the government, but bitterly criticised the education department’s decision, calling it absurd, unjustified and disastrous for the children.“It does not matter whether the school has even one student,” a teacher said. “Education is not about making profit. The school should run if it is close to the student’s home.” He is sure that no girl will be sent even to primary school if the decision is implemented. “What you are seeing is just 0.001% of the total problem. This decision has created havoc in the state.” A parent wondered if the government had done any physical survey before deciding on closing down the schools. “Why do they want my son to drop his education? This is inhuman,” he said.