Brow furrowed in concentration, Sushil Kaushik is tying a knot. But it isn’t any old knot. Along with three members of his Bharat Scouts patrol, the 17-year-old is swiftly and efficiently creating a ‘shelf’ for their belongings, a shelf made of three long staffs and bits of twine.
Welcome to the Rashtrapati Scouts Testing Camp, at the Bharat Scouts and Guides (BSG) Training Complex near Faridabad. The scouts celebrate their centenary this year, while the guides do so in 2011. At the testing camp, most of the boys know about the centenary, but the more immediate concern is to qualify for a Rashtrapati Puraskar (President’s award). Each scout is here because he is a Rajya Puraskar recipient, which places him in an elite group eligible for the President’s award.
Yogit Kumar, a Class XI student of RSK Inter College Simbhaoli, has been a scout since he was 12. Why did he join? “Samman (respect),” he says quietly. “And I liked what they did.”
That’s a fairly typical response at the camp, where most of the 130 boys come from a rural or semi-urban background, though regional organising commissioner (guides) Kumud Mehra assures me that they do have the occasional scout or guide from an “upper class family”.
Part of the BSG’s Uttar Pradesh unit, Yogit is one of nearly 100,000 members. But not all units can boast such strength. Delhi, for instance, has 30,000-odd members, not many of them from the public schools. State governments in Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Karnataka have made scouting and guiding mandatory in schools, but the movement seems increasingly to be spreading to rural India.
At the national headquarters in Delhi, BSG director BK Bahuguna admits that big-city children may find less reason to join BSG because of the “competitiveness and career-mindedness” that their parents encourage. “We can’t force anyone to join; ours is a voluntary organisation,” he says. “The Ministry of Youth Affairs sponsors our events, but we’re not fully funded.”
Which probably explains the relative lack of publicity about the BSG. “They should make their presence felt. Personally, I wish every boy was a scout and every girl a guide. But the lure has to be created,” says Shyama Chona, who retired this month as principal of DPS, RK Puram. SL Jain, principal of Mahavir Senior Model School, agrees. “But we already involve the children in too many activities,” he adds.
Bahuguna counters by directing interested parties to the BSG website (“because we offer everything that gyms or adventure holidays do, but we also teach life skills and values”) and asks schools to send them proposals. “We have 42.6 lakh members, behind only USA and Indonesia, and parents often write to us asking where they can find a unit because their child’s school doesn’t have one,” he says, as Krishnaswami, deputy director of the boys’ programme, lists some famous scouts, including Krishna Menon, HN Kunzru and Madan Mohan Malaviya.
So will the city kids take more of an interest? “Kids these days ask questions we never did,” says a public school principal. But Bahuguna says the questions can be answered. “No scout,” he says, “will jump off the fourth floor because he has done badly in an exam. He will fight and come back stronger.” An important lesson there?