On a sultry afternoon around 3.30 a tent at Tikri had swarms of toddlers entering with their backpacks stitched out of pillow covers. It was half an hour to their class to begin as they sat there patiently to greet their teacher.
Their new classroom is The Kisan School, started by The Kisan Social Army in February, 2021. It aims to educate the children from a nearby slum. The Kisan School is a 15X15 tent erected by the protesting farmers at Tikri border. The flaps of the tent were decorated with colourful displays and charts that read alphabets and numbers. A few girls in the corner completed their homework while boys in the front revised the previous day’s classwork. One thing was in common- their bright smiles and will to learn.
“I like to come here because we get Lassi after school”, says seven year old Shivam who has been attending the school at Tikri for the past 12 days. He along with his eight-year old sister Manisha visit their new found classroom everyday. The kids reside in the nearby slum with their mother who works at a factory, while their father, a small farmer, takes care of the farm in Bihar.
In the corner of the classroom a group of five girls sit and giggle. Ashika says she studies in a government school so does Sheetal and Anuroop when asked about the name of their school they say, “Sarkari school hai naam nahi pata. It’s a government school that’s all we know.”
Parul and Shalu say they study in a private school when asked about the name the two girls laugh and give the same reply.
Ten year old Ashika resides in a nearby slum with her mother and siblings. Few years back her father left the house with money to get his treatment for jaundice and never returned. Sheetal and her brother Anuroop say their father has been suffering from hemorrhoids for the past three months and hence stays at home. Their mother works in a shoe factory to make the ends meet for the family. The Kisan School is their hope for education after lockdown.
The Mid Day Meal fiasco at previous school
Most of these students studied in MCD Primary School. A bone chilling reality about the mid day meal distributed at the school was exposed when Sooraj, a student in class 6th of the school said, “In 2017 after eating the mid day meal around 35 children of my class died. Not even one child survived. Later a lizard was found in the food served to the children. Thankfully I didn’t attend school that day.” MCD Primary School, Tikri Khurd located in MCD block of north west Delhi is managed by Local body. “I carry my own food. I don’t eat at school because the food is of poor quality. Once we found worms in Rajma Chawal,” added another child. In the class of nearly thirty five students at Tikri around 17 children still study at MCD Primary School. The children don’t fear the quality of food at the protest.
Why do children like to visit The Kisan School?
“We come here because we enjoy the classes and food is better than the mid day meal at school. The teachers here talk politely, don’t hit us and we enjoy the way they teach,” was the usual reply when asked for the reasons children visit Tikri everyday.
The children are given lectures on value education, English, Hindi, Mathematics and General Knowledge. It was an hour past their class and the children repeated lessons in chorus with the same enthusiasm as when the class began. As children repeat the table for five in chorus, Kavita who teaches the students at Tikri border says, “We distribute gift packages to children to encourage them to come and study. The school will continue as long as the protest persists at Tikri. Even if one child out of these achieves something in life we will succeed. We see the school as a legacy of farmers’ protests. These kids will one day remember the spirits of the farmers of this country and how the protest had so much to give.” Kavita is pursuing PhD in Physical Education from Punjab University.
“But the students are within the age group 4 years-15 years. The girls are upto 12 years of age only because parents fear the safety of elder daughters,” adds Kavita.
What went behind the idea of The Kisan School?
“When the farmers’ protests started these children used to come and wander in search of food, water. This created a need to ensure their security as well. So we thought why not educate these children? So we at Kisan Social Army started The Kisan School and started teaching these children,” says Manendar Kumar, member of Kisan Social Army as he sits on a dented chair with a list of students in his hand comprising their age and level of education.
They plan to segregate the school on the basis of age groups to facilitate quality education for all. “It is difficult to manage all of them in a single classroom as some come from govt schools, others from private and few have never attended school,” adds Manendar.
Kisan Social Army ideated schooling at protest site.
What is the long term perspective of The Kisan School?
“As and when we feel that the protest is heading towards success we are planning to arrange a session with the parents of these children in order to motivate them to continue their child’s education. We will exchange contact details with them so as to help them financially and assist academically as well in future,” elaborated Manendar when asked about the future plan of The Kisan School at Tikri.
About Kisan Social Army
The Kisan Social Army was formed by Anoop Chhanot, Anil Malik and Vikas Duhan. All three have been a part of the movement since day one. The Kisan Social Army started raising voice on social media and prevented the spread of rumours or fake news about the protest. Their teams are working on ground in villages to inform the people about the flaws in three farm laws.
Vandana Bansal is a journalism and mass communication student from New Delhi