The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wedding plans halt Birhorsí studies

Bokaro, July 28: Insistence by Birhor parents that their sons must marry and have children before going back to school has put Bokaro Steel plantís education department in a spot.

The BSL has been taking care of the school education of 14 selected Birhor children.

Birhors, once a nomadic tribe, faces extinction. The number of Birhors, described as a primitive tribe by anthropologists, is said to be less than 2,000. The first generation learners have been residing in a BSL hostel and were being groomed to complete studies.

The teenagers returned to their villages in Gomia during the summer vacation. Several weddings coincided with the vacation and parents of some of the teenagers argued that their wards, too, should get married.

One of the boys, Class VIII student Puran Birhor, got married during the vacation and several of his school friends attended the wedding.

BSL officials were in for a shock when they went to pick up the boys at the end of the vacation. Puran and another boy refused to return. The BSL vehicle came back with the rest of the 12 boys. But two of the boys left the hostel this week without informing the officials. When they officials rushed to the village in search of the boys, their parents insisted that the boys could go back only after getting married and becoming fathers.

Life expectancy in the tribe is said to be around 35 years. This is believed to be one of the reasons prompting early marriage and the urgency to have children.

Counselling sessions have hurriedly been arranged to convince Birhor families that education would transform their lives. BSLís education department chief Shitanshu Prasad said the boys were being reminded that having reached Class VIII, it would be foolish for them to abandon studies.

Under the state government rules, Birhors are eligible for government jobs after Class X. The boys are being told that they should persevere for at least two more years.

BSL has sought the help of the welfare department and Bokaro deputy commissioner P.K. Toppo and a meeting is scheduled next week with Birhor community leaders and the pupilsí parents.

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