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'Unbroken' Adivasi youths teach next generation

- Victims overcome tragedy, sub-human living conditions in relief camps to help violence-scarred kids

Unish Hembram (left) and Paltan Kisku at a children's centre near Sapkata in Kokrajhar district. Telegraph picture

Jhawarbil (Kokrajhar), Sept. 23: Unish Hembram, 20, lost her father in a militant attack in 1996 while Soban Bisra, 23, has spent years living in relief camps after his house was torched twice.

The trauma of conflict and the "sub-human" existence in relief camps, however, have not deterred them from chasing their dreams or helping others facing similar hardships.

In conflict-hit Kokrajhar district, Soban and Unish are part of a group of Adivasi youths who are fighting the odds and pursuing higher studies and, at the same time, teaching in an NGO-run primary school for Adivasi child victims of violence.

Soban, his three year-old sister Sita, and his parents fled after militants attacked their Janaligaon house in 1996. "The 12 years we spent at a relief camp at Sapkata were very difficult. But I always wanted to study and so did not give up," said Soban, sitting under a tree near the school here.

His family shifted and settled here in 2009 and Soban cleared his BA exam in 2014. He is currently pursuing his masters in political science (distance education) under Gauhati University.

The school, started by Northeast Research and Social Work Networking (NERSWN), a Kokrajhar-based NGO, currently has 360 students. The seven Adivasi youths who teach here are paid Rs 3,500 per month.

"Most of the displaced people did not go back to their native villages out of fear and settled in forests or government land. Their children had no place to study. So we started the school to make sure that the futures of these children are not destroyed. At the same time, we engaged the Adivasi youths as teachers as they too had faced similar situations," executive director of the NGO, Raju Kumar Narzary, told The Telegraph.

The school has been named Suluk Gwjwn Vidyalaya. Suluk and Gwjwn mean peace in the Santali and Bodo languages respectively. "We chose the name in order to promote the sense of peace and unity between Bodos and Adivasis, as the conflicts in the past resulted in a trust deficit," Narzary said.

The NGO has also been supplying free seeds and other technical help to promote cultivation of paddy, chilly and other vegetables. The project was launched with financial assistance from the National Foundation for India.

Unish Hembram and Paltan Kisku - another Adivasi youth - are taking care of 147 Adivasi children about 10km from Sapkata, which used to be a big relief camp for thousands of Adivasis after the 1996 Bodo-Adivasi clash.

Unish, who lost her father in the conflict, is studying at Rabi Hazi College at Gossaigaon, the district headquarters and at the same time teaching at the children's centre run by NERSWN.

"Trafficking of children was a serious issue here but we managed to check it. We went door to door and requested parents to inform us or police before sending their children out with persons promising good education. We have also managed to check child marriages which was rampant here," Unish said.


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