The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Students shine, government blind

Bokaro, April 21: Jharkhand government appears unimpressed at the spectacular success of the Bokaro Steel Limited (BSL) in educating 14 children from the primitive Birhor tribe.

Although the first batch of these students have had six years of schooling, the next batch is yet to be selected and sent despite reminders from the BSL management.

Birhors are a small, nomadic tribe on the verge of extinction. Life-expectancy among the Birhors remains a dismal 38 years and they continue to make a living by making ropes and huts made out of leaves.

Their number is barely a couple of thousand and, by some accounts, much less.

But while the first batch of these 14 Birhor children have learnt to speak in both Hindi and English, compete with their more fortunate peers and excel in both academics and in playing soccer, the state government has made no effort to send in another batch of Birhor kids to Bokaro.

“They did send a few boys once,” admitted an official of the education department of Bokaro Steel Limited, “but they were all above the age of 16. It was impossible then to make them learn new languages or change their habits.”

Ideally, the students sent here should be between five and seven years of age, he added.

Shitanshu Prasad, heading BSL’s education cell, recalled how the Birhor boys would initially keep escaping from the hostel to return to the forest in Gomia, 50 km from here. They were brought back time and again but they were missing classes and it was becoming difficult to ensure continuity.

Prasad’s team, finally, hit upon the idea of hosting the parents and make them stay with the children. But every time the parents were about to leave, the boys would get restless and would insist on going back, he recalled.

It was, finally, left to the parents who sternly told the kids, at an evening meeting, that they would not be welcomed back to the village if they ever ran away from the hostel.

That apparently did the trick and the boys never tried to escape after that meeting.

Many of them are now securing over 60 per cent marks, some of them are securing ranks from one to five while all of them now recite poems and read in both English and Hindi.

Caretaker of the hostel, Bahadur Singh, recalls that in the initial weeks, the boys would refuse to wear shirts or put on shoes, insist on using the open ground in front of the hostel for toilet and preferred to sleep in the open.

Some of the more daring boys climbed down drain-pipes to sleep on the ground rather than in their rooms on the first floor, Singh recalled.

The Birhor boys have taken to playing soccer with elan. Naturally gifted, the boys reached the finals of the state-level qualifying round for the Subroto Cup tournament.

Prasad, chief of BSL’s education cell, recalled how the boys wanted to have a colour TV so that they could watch the matches of the football World Cup last year.

They picked up the tricks well enough to impress even seasoned players.

They are now prize exhibits, museum specimen of sorts, with every important visitor to Bokaro Steel Limited making a beeline to meet the boys and hear a spectacular success story of the public sector steel plant.

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