NGO powers social engineering dream

NEW DELHI: A glimmer of hope for the Musahars — loosely translates to rat-eaters — who bring out the rear in the totem pole of a caste-driven Hindu society across the Tarai that straddles the vast plains on the Indo-Nepal border.

Subjected to age-old exploitation and deprivation, the community had all along embraced illiteracy, backwardness and grinding poverty as a way of life.

But, times they are a changing. Social engineering is at work, thanks to Shoshit Sewa Sangh (SSS) and Samadhan, a Delhi-based NGO, for the past four years. Powered by the vision of an equitable society in the 21st century, SSS has been successfully running Shoshit Samadhan Kendra (SSK) — a charitable English medium residential school — in Patna, the capital of Indian state of Bihar, imparting

education to GenNext Musahars. It’s an all-expense paid programme, where these underprivileged children not only have access to quality education but also their upkeep is provided for. Presently, SSK has 150 students on its rolls. While, 50 more are likely to join in the next academic session. JK Sinha, founder chairman, SSS, hoped that students from this novel institution would be able to find success in the competitive world. Children are also undergoing training in various vocational courses like carpet weaving, automobile repairing, plumbing etc. It is a sure-fire way to break free from the cycle of poverty.

A proud Sinha waxes eloquent about SSS’s popularity among the Musahars. “Around 700 parents thronged our school for an entrance examination a few weeks ago. Many came from far-flung areas on hired vehicles,” he reminisced. The growing demand has set the ball rolling for an infrastructure face-lift. Plans are afoot to construct its own building complete with auditorium, science laboratory and attendant facilities over the next two years. Information technology is also at hand — SSS boasts of around 20 computers. Sinha has a role model in mind for his brain child. “We want to turn it into like St Xavier’s in Kathmandu,” he said. No wonder, SSK is paying competitive compensation packages to attract the best of teaching faculty. The enthusiasm among Musahar parents, who are usually perceived to be resistant to change — numbed by centuries-old ostracism and social neglect — are a pointer to the

project’s success.

Sinha’s take on the community’s abiding faith in SSK explains the changing mindset. “The Musahars are reluctant to send their children to government-run schools — the only ones they can afford — since they feel it’s a sheer waste of time. Teachers regularly play truant. Children, busy attending defunct schools, fail to shore up the families’ meagre income since there is, ineviatbly, too many mouths to feed,” explained Sinha, an ex-bureaucrat. Uddhav Pyakurel, who is pursuing his PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, put things in perspective in the context of neighbouring Nepal. Pyakurel, who is doing his research on Social Exclusion and Inclusion — A Social Study of Dalits in Nepal knows the ground realities all too well. “In the past, caste-based discrimination was the root of disparity between the haves and have-nots. In this day and age, it’s all about the great education divide. Despite the government’s move to provide incentives for students from marginalised communities, the schemes have largely been a non-starter,” reasoned Pyakurel. “Education is the biggest and, perhaps, the only source of empowerment that can help create a level-playing field for all sections in the society,” he added. Sinha agreed with Pyakurel.

English as a medium of instruction was a conscious choice for SSK to blur the elitist divide, and prepare the Musahar aspirants to pursue medicine, engineering, aviation, accountancy and law as higher education. “We’re giving these children an opportunity to prepare better for that defining moment in life — a quantum leap of faith. The state often doesn’t have the resources to impart quality education vis-a-vis an NGO. Be that as it may, education alone cannot be the agent of change. The government needs to look into other aspects as well,” said Sinha.

Since social engineering is the guiding principle of SSS, SSK alumni are being instilled with the “payback time” mantra in their formative years. They are tutored to contribute at least 20 per cent of their earnings for the uplift of their community once they start earning.

“Each student is a role model for the community,” added Sinha. Nepal, perhaps, can take a leaf out of SSK’s book since the nation, in the throes of a historic transformation, is also trying to embrace inclusiveness.

And, Sinha’s dedication could well be an ideal reference point in philanthropy and social engineering.