Fifteen-year-old Dhrubojyoti Das has been part of the Bharat Scouts and Guides since he was in Class 5 and he’s distinguished himself as a scout par excellence.
Not only has he received the Rajyapurashkar for being the best scout in his school, Dhrubojyoti was also awarded the Governor General Medal for his outstanding performance at a camp organised by the National Cadet Corps.
“I’ve learnt how to cross a river using a rope, light a campfire and administer first aid,” says the fifteen-year-old from National Gems Higher Secondary School.
Arundhuti Basu (in red cap) along with other NCC cadets at a camp in Kashmir.
Being part of the Bharat Scouts and Guides was once an important part of a teenager’s school life but without adequate encouragement from schools or the state this institution is dying a slow death.
Scoutmaster Sandeep Debroy and his wife have been trying hard to revive the Scouts and Guides, but they realise that a lot depends on the students and their interests.
“The state governments of Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra offer the President’s Award, which is considered the highest award in scouting. This gives students incentive to join, but this appreciation is missing in our state,” says Debroy.
“Parents nowadays push their children into activities that may help build careers. Moreover, scouting can’t compete with the attractions of a cricket camp,” adds the scoutmaster of the 24th Asoka Group, a school where scouts are trained.
Despite these odds, hundreds of girls and boys have discovered the joys of being in the Scouts and Guides.
“It increases my fitness and lets me interact with people and make new friends during inter-school competitions,” he says.
Social work is also a big part of being a scout or guide and recently Dhrubojyoti and his friends went on a drive to clean up their neighbourhood.
“We went to 25 houses and taught them to keep the neighbourhood clean and throw all garbage in bins. We asked people to join the movement, and two people actually agreed,” says the fifteen-year-old.
However, the diminishing popularity of the scouts and guides is a reality.
“The senior school boys don’t want to be part of the scouts because they want to concentrate solely on their studies. We do have scouts in school, but other activities like basketball or cricket are far more popular, and we are likely to do away with scouts if it becomes entirely redundant,” says Mukta Nain, principal of Birla High School for Boys.
For older youths, however, the National Cadet Corps offers some challenge, and the NCC is still quite popular in Bengal’s colleges.
“I come from a family with an army background and I wanted to have some first hand experience of army life before taking it up as a career,” says 20-year-old Paramveer Singh, a St Xavier’s College student who is an active member of the NCC.
NCC cadet Arundhuti Basu had a really traumatic experience during a camp while learning how to sky dive.
“My instructor had jumped from the helicopter and plummeted to his death, as his parachute failed to open. I was next in line and though I was really nervous I had no option but to jump,” says Arundhuti.
She had heard horror stories similar to this before going for the camp but the experience was shocking.
“We’d even been told before we left that the NCC would not be responsible if anything untoward happened to us,” she adds.
While this may have been an extreme situation, the NCC and Bharat Scouts and Guides are famous for building character in young people.
“I was an active member of the Guides for eight years,” says Meenal Bajaj, ex-student of Mahadevi Birla World Academy.
“Through activities like campaigning and community service we would learn a number of practical skills and develop a sense of sisterhood and compassion,” adds Meenal.
Though only 12, Mallhar DasGupta, a student of Patha Bhavan School says, “Scouting has increased my mental and physical growth. I’ve been actively involved in many programmes like conservation of water, forests, and animals and participated in adventure sports like rock climbing and hiking.”
Although things look bleak for the Scouts and Guides today, many like Mallhar are still signing up to learn skills, make friends and become better citizens.