- Dharampal Saini is the pioneer of Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram chain of schools in Bastar.
- Even at 87 years, he is not satisfied and feels that there is room for improvement in the society and education of Bastar.
- He is fondly referred to as “tauji” by the students of his school.
Dharampal Saini, fondly known as ‘Tauji’ in his village Bastar, is a 87-year-old activist and teacher. He is the pioneer of Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram chain of schools in the village.
Born in Dhar,he was introduced to the teachings of Gandhi at a tender age by one of his teachers, which turned out to be the changing point of his life. Soon, he met a social activist Vinoba Bhave who was working for the upliftment of the Bhil tribes of Madhya Pradesh. Saini then decided to work with him under certain Gandhian organizations.
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An article about tribal girls of Bastar had made him take the initiative to educate them. Bastar at that time was undeveloped and was under Naxalite influence.While it was a tough road to chart, ‘Tauji’ never gave up.
He pestered Bhave till he agreed and received a letter and a donation of merely five rupees from the Chief Minister. He found a land in Dimrapal village, a long way from Jagdalpur.
On December, 1976 Saini started his first school with two women teachers and two other support staff. Initially, none of the villagers wanted their girls to go to school. Saini worked day and night, never yielding and got some of them to agree to give their daughters school education. He included extra-curricular activities and what not in the school curriculum.
Next, he opened a school in a Naxal infested area in Barsur. It was highly dangerous but he was determined to make it work. Government, impressed by his efforts, gave him a sizeable donation to open further schools nearby, quoted thebetterindia.com.
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As Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram schools gained a good name in the society, Saini started inviting boys to study in his schools as well. Thus, it no longer remained an educational drive only for tribal girls but became a more inclusive program.
Today, Saini and his group of schools have succeeded in promoting education among the people of Bastar, to whom education had appeared to be an alien subject. The Ashrams not only serve as a refuge from the otherwise deplorable condition of tribal people in the area but it is also a place where they get to pursue their best interests.
The girls are so good in athletics that some of them have even played at the national level. Their medals decorate the walls of Saini’s humble abode of two rooms. From the very beginning, he had given as much emphasis on physical education as on academic excellence. He had told the Time of India :
“This issue worried me on how to inculcate the habit of studying and creating a learning atmosphere in school. For this I initiated Yoga and then a district forest officer suggested to me to channelise this energy for sports activity as these tribal girls have immense stamina and by the time they are four years old, they walk kilometres barefoot to forests to collect supplies. So I started teaching them sports and in the year 1985, a 14-year-old girl Mangal Mode won the first national medals for us in discus throw and kabaddi.”
In spite of revolutionizing Bastar’s education system, Saini is not yet satisfied. He intends on working more to make Bastar an even better place.
-prepared by Atreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram.
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