Treading a New Road

potraj_400pxOct. 21, 2013 – The man — dressed in a colourful skirt-like attire — dances, twirls and whips himself, while the woman, balances a wooden plank on her head with a deity placed atop, beats a drum. Passing the streets of Pune, you must have witnessed this numerous times. The sight of small kids performing the same stunts must have left you speechless, inundating your mind with several questions about their community. These street performers are the nomads who belong to the tribe called Potraj. For decades, they have been making a living out of performing on the streets. Even the children of this community join this profession at a very young age.

A survey done by Door Step School (DSS) in February this year revealed that the none of the family members from the Potraj community staying in Mohammadwadi and Kondhwa had ever been to school. Thus, in April, DSS started a new programme called Parents’ Participation in Children’s Education (PPCE) with support from Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (REC) to encourage parents from the marginalised sections of the society to be more aware of their rights and be proactive in their children’s education.

However, getting the children to the school was a tough task. “Firstly, we counselled the parents about the importance of education, who eventually said that we will have to convince their community head. He said that the children of their community will not go anywhere and we will have to come to their area to teach them,” says Seema Walunjkar, the programme manager for the project.

A two-week long summer camp was conducted for the 14 children of the Potraj community in May wherein the kids were introduced to the concept of school and education in the DSS’ school-on-wheels bus. Walunjkar adds that when the children were enrolled in a PMC-run school in Kondhwa, the project met with another roadblock. “The community head had insisted that all the children will sit in one class irrespective of their age group, and not with the other students. He didn’t want the children to mingle with the other chidren,”

However, on their first day of the school, the children enjoyed their session with their teacher, wherein the teacher narrated many interesting stories. “It was enough to set the ball rolling; the children started coming to school regularly from the next day. The headmaster also convinced the community head that it will be for the betterment of the children that they sit in their age-appropriate classes and not sit together in one class,” explains Walunjkar.

Though it has been just three months since the children joined school, the changes in them are very much visible. “Even their parents say that the way they speak and behave has changed in a positive way,” says Walunjkar. Learning-wise, she says, there isn’t too much of a development in the older children as they have never been to school. The younger ones, on the other hand, are learning and picking up well.

What’s interesting is that the children continue to perform on the streets alongside their studies. Here, the school management has been liberal with the students and has given them permission to come to school at 1.30 pm instead of 12, which is when the school starts for other students. “The children attend the school and leave only at 5 pm,” she says.

~Garima Mishra, Indian Express