HSTP program also created its own curriculum and books, the uniqueness of these books was that these were workbooks in contrast of textbooks, all the books demanded exploring, performing activities, experiments to come to answers, in this process students curiosity used to get triggered and they used to come up with plenty of questions on daily basis, to address these answers a fictitious character called ‘Sawaliram’ was created who answered questions by thousands of children by mail each day! Students used to write postcards with their questions and several academicians, scientists from different parts of country took an active part to answer these questions.
At Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, the ‘Shanka-samadhan’ (‘Curiosity satisfied’) program addressed questions mailed in by children. In Kerala members of ‘Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP)’ who were also publishing magazines for children also used to respond to their questions. KSSP’s ideal of a ‘People’s Science Movement’ was adopted by popular groups in other States of India, leading in 1988 to the ‘All India People’s Science Network’. Currently, an online site, especially for Sawaliram, is created by HBCSE, TIFR former Director Jayshree Ramdas, which archives questions which were asked by students and their responses, the site (https://sawaliram.org/) is a current online version of Sawaliram where student’s questions can be submitted, viewed, answered, queried and analyzed.
Right from the beginning of its rural campus in 1972, Kishore Bharati started promoting the appropriate technology of constructing pre-fabricated cement concrete rings (4 feet diameter) for making ‘mini-tubewells’, popularly known as Ring Wells. Nine live models of Ring Wells, each as an effective source of irrigation and potable water, were displayed on the campus. Pre-fabricated cement rings were made available at a ‘no loss, no profit’ basis to farmers along with training in the technique of digging and construction. Its low-cost easy-to-dig and easy-to-maintain technology enabled the relatively poor peasants of the adjacent region to have access to irrigation for the first time in the living memory of their family’s economic history. With this intervention, the irrigation potential of the Bankhedi Block increased several-fold, transforming its primarily rain-fed agricultural economy into a two- or three-crop economy. The major beneficiaries were small and marginal farmers for whom the tube-wells with submersible pumps were beyond reach because of their unaffordable cost and complicated technology of both digging and maintenance. Approximately five thousand farmers and other residents belonging to the eastern region of Hoshangabad District and the neighbouring Narsinghpur and Raisen Districts were benefited, who constructed Ring Wells for the purpose of irrigation as well potable water.
Exploring low-cost and sustainable techniques of water conservation for farming became an existential question for Kishore Bharati as the revenue land given to it by the state government had sandy soil (sehra) which had extremely low capacity to hold water. Most of the soils of the Banjhedi Block also had similar characteristics, thereby resulting in the generally impoverished economy of the region. Two important lines of exploration were pursued in developing ways and means of water conservation. First, in a ten-acre sandy plot of fruit-bearing trees, an earthen picture (matka) was placed half under the surface near the root system of the trees. once filled up with water from the ring wells flowing in open channels covered with a plastic sheet, the water would trickle down slowly out of the natural pores of the pitcher to the root system. There would be no wastage as the rate of flow of water out of the pitcher would be automatically regulated by the water tension built up in the soil due to both evaporation and seepage. The water in the pitcher would last as long as a week, while the irrigation channel would dry up within a few hours of the water supply being stopped. The low-cost technology was later extended to the plantation of saplings in developing a 40-acre mixed forest. This technology became an effective alternative to the costly and complex drip-irrigation system. Both the 10-acre orchard and the 40-acre mixed forest attracted wide public attention. The second line of exploration grew out of the crisis of fodder for the cattle. We adopted the technology of developing a drought-resistant pasture from the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi (U.P.). This involved planting a row of drought-resistant varieties of grass alternating with a row of drought-resistant legumes. In the early stages, we used the low-cost technology of pitchers to ensure that the loss of plantation would be minimized but it became unnecessary later since both the grasses and the legumes could survive well due to their drought-resistant characteristics. Finally, we had a flourishing pasture of nutritious fodder despite the sandy soil with low water-retention capacity.
Our interest in the issues of Public Health grew in late 1970s with the realization that both the infrastructure and the quality of service at Primary Health Centre at the Block level was deteriorating rapidly. This phenomenion caught our attention when reports piled up in 1978 that the patients in the National TB Education Programme were not receiving regular medication, thereby severely suffering and even dying. We responded to this crisis by organizing a youth awareness camp where scientific aspects of TB and its medication were shared and the related socio-economic and political issues were raised. This led to social action in several villages of Bankhedi Block in both persuading the TB patients to seek regular medical support and building public pressure on the Primary Health Centre to respond appropriately. Later, in early 1980s, the lady doctor in the KB Group organized zaroori dawai suvidha engaging village women and men as barefoot paramedics to attend to the common ailments in the villages. Among other measures, it included an active home-based oral rehydration programme to provide relief in cases of dysentery. This led to a training programme with the village dais (village-level traditional mid-wives) and long-term involvement with them to make them more effective in providing medical support to pregnant women. In the process, the dias shared their invaluable traditional knowledge with us.
Reproductive Health and the Gender Issue
Our engagement with the dais helped focus attention on some of the criticvsl issues of reproductive health. A village-level study entitled, “Phool To Jharte Hi Hain” (“Flowers are Bound to be Shed) revealed that the high infant mortality rate had been accepted as part of women’s destiny, rather than being realted with poverty leading to malnutrition, unhygienic conditions and lack of public health services. All this raised problems relating to reproductive health, particularly women’s lack of scientific understanding of reproduction and how they become pregnant and babies are born. The KB Group researched and evolved simple methods of pursuing the monthly reproductive cycle and organized training camps for women. The women learned to record their monthly cycle in a calendar on their own, thereby identifying their fertile periods. However, this scientific method did not give them the control obvr the decision to become pregnant or not since it was the man who had the ultimate control. THis realization of inequality in sexula relations led to a radically transformative discourse on gender equality and involved men too. All this is recorded in a detailed bound report entitled, “Janjeeron Ko Todkar” (“Breaking the Shackles”), published by Kishore Bharati in 1990 (available on request).
In 1981, the small and marginal farmers along with the landless of village Palia Piparia were mobilised in a mazdoor sangathan (a sort of peasant organization) to protest against the almost century-old feudal oppression over their lives. They identified issues relating to public distribution system, wages, forest resources and encroachment of revenue land as the central issues of their struggle for justice and equality. Apart from changing their equation with the feudal forces in the village, they also negotiated with the KB group for right to cultivate the government land given to Kishore Bharati and share its forest resources. This led to the creation of a 40-acre mixed forest which yielded produce thtoughout the year for the members of the mazdoor sangathan and as a result of its collective wisdom.
Libraries and Documentation
KISHORE BHARATI organized a popular mobile library going through the surrounding villages over a bicycle. Hundreds of children and youth became its regular subscribers. This encouraged us to join hands with the educated youth of the nearby town of Pipariya and organize the ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh Pustakalya’ which also acted as an active children and youth centre for various activities. A newspaper called Bal Chiraiya was edited and brought out regularly by a team of children for several years. The local youth used the books and documentation in the Pustakalyato to organize awareness-building exhibitions and meetings on socio-political issues. A popular progressive Lecture Series was also organized by the Pustakalaya for several years during the 1980s, which became the fertile ground of progressive ideas in a kasbai environment, otherwise dominated by the big peasantry and grain traders.
In September 2007, a bilingual (Hindi and English) Documentation Centre was set up for use by individuals and social organizations, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, engaged in struggles for protecting and establishing the rights of the marginalized sections of the society to jal-jangal-jameen-jeevika (water, forest, land and livelihood)
Democratic and Human Rights
In the early 1980s, the KB Group provided core support in organizing a state-level democratic and human rights movement. In 1985-87, we undertook documentation and other such tasks in support of the movement of Bhopal gas victims in seeking justice from the Union Carbide and scientific medical treatment and rehabilitation from the central/state government.
Education Policy interventions
As a result of the in-depth experience of educational interventions both within and outside the school system, Kishore Bharati’s representative (Dr, Anil Sadgopal) was nominated by the respective Prime Ministers of India to be a member of two major policy-making bodies viz. National Commission on Teachers (1983-84) and later the National Policy on Education Review Committee (1990). In both of these instances, the KB Group, along with several others, intervened and turned these formal bodies into major opportunities for engaging the public (particularly the students and teachers) in policy analysis and debate. These early initiatives in building a policy discourse lay the ground for evolving a methodology for policy analysis in the 1990s and deciphering the nature of the neoliberal assault on our education system. All this has contributed to the present engagement of the KB Group in seeking alternative legislation for the Right to Education rooted in the framework of a Common School System Based on Neighbourhood Schools.