While different schools celebrate annual days in different manners…its not the same for Independence Day.
The ‘worst’ school in the country, with so called ‘ill trained teachers’ and ‘incompetent’ Principals, and the ‘best’ school in the country, with the most motivated teachers and the most innovative Principal, celebrates independence day in the same manner.
They hoist the Indian flag, sing some patriotic songs, may be do a fancy dress competition with kids turning out as Gandhi and Nehru. Some may go a step forward and do a proscenium play around Bhagat Singh. But essentially it’s the same…whether it’s a village or a city school, a non-progressive or a progressive school.
The small kid sitting in the auditorium or even the teenager is least moved about independence by all these. Despite the fact that the school has spent enormous amount of time rehearsing for that event. Over a period of time…we lost focus of the child and got involved in various other peripheral things.
The art teacher takes all the pains to do up the school with Indian flags and put up photos of Bhagat Singh et al on all the notice boards…to give the theme of independence to the school. The innovative art teacher puts saris of the tricolour all over the school (to impress the Principal) And that’s not it…we have become petty over a period of time. The Principal and her able staff often spends the entire afternoon deciding on whether the welcome of guest should be done with flowers or with a shawl. Whether the photograph of Bhagat Singh and Gandhi ji should be adorned with a fresh flower garland or the other ‘long lasting’ one. The music teacher is bothered about the fact whether the patriotic group song…would be sung wearing the school uniform or the more fancy ‘kurta pyjama’ of pre independence times.
Oh! And I forgot…the chief guest…the father of the Managing trustee. The Principal is relieved to know in time that the father of the Managing trustee is a diabetic and would hence have tea without sugar. Sugar free biscuits are then arranged.
Excuse me for getting sarcastic. But, as you see…everything has been taken care of…except the little boy sitting in the auditorium…Nobody thinks…what he will take home.
Does this Independence Day celebration give him any taste of the independence movement? It’s not difficult to answer the question.
Anyhow…I started off on my own journey to reinvent Independence Day celebrations. Started thinking on what do we relate to regarding independence…protests, freedom fighters, ‘Quit India’ movement etc. What remains of the independence movement now? What came to my mind immediately were the freedom fighters and I knew that there would be some in every part of the country. Why don’t my kids actually go and meet the freedom fighters?
Why don’t we call the freedom fighters over to the school for interacting with our kids? Then began my search for freedom fighters. I knew, it would be easy to find freedom fighters because most got pensions. But getting the list of freedom fighters from the pension office was a pain in itself…didn’t happen (can’t tell the story here).
So, finally I reached the Freedom fighters association of India office at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi and got the contacts of a few freedom fighters in Delhi. Must mention their names here as they blessed this project of mine. Subhadra Khosla was 13, when she got arrested in Lahore taking part in the Quit India movement. An old lady…she was the first person to actually give me the energy to go on with the project. To my surprise…she was more than eager to meet the kids. Same was the case with Mr Hari Ram, who was 90 years old and an Indian National Army veteran. The interactions of these people with the children were amazing. The children didn’t ask many questions as I had expected but they were visibly moved and so was the entire staff of the school…which wanted to meet these freedom fighters. I don’t want to write much about that interaction…you can imagine it. When was the last time…you (the reader of this book) met a freedom fighter? Another thing which I did was that I took the kids to visit Jantar Mantar…not the monument but the road next to it…where people from all walks of life gather everyday to …’protest’. People sing songs, shout slogans, go on aborted marches to the Parliament, just sit there for a ‘cause’. Interestingly everyday there is one or the other protest happening there. Since, independence movement is also a movement of different forms of protest…I decided to give a taste of the same to the kids as well. The kids were left at Jantar Mantar in groups and asked to interact with the protestors with a few questions in mind – Why are you protesting? What’s your issue? Do you think this protest will have an effect? Why did you choose this form of protest?
So, the kids met the Bhopal protestors, some CPI (M) protestors against the Nuclear Liability Bill and a horde of protestors from BJP rallying against siphoning of SC/ST funds for the Commonwealth games.
It may be the case that still there were kids in the group, who may have found this exercise boring but I am sure the experience will remain etched in their minds for a while and may connect to some other experiences in life to create a learning experience.
In this entire exercise the teachers were not stressed with things and kids were completely interested in it. So, we managed to do a very nice school event with focus on the kid and without the teachers’ getting bothered about bouquets and saris. In fact a number of teachers walked up to me and thanked me for giving them that experience.
(The above is an extract from Shankar Musafir's forthcoming book on school education titled 'To,The Principal...yours sincerely' published by Leadstart. Look out for it at stores in July 2011)