A disabled couple is now the role model for the tribals of Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh after they started a school in a tribal village of the district in 2002. In the beginning only 10 children would come to that school, but today a total of 350 children– all tribals -- study here.
Alirajpur, which according to the Census 2011recorded the lowest literacy rate of 37% in the country, is dominated by Bhil and Bhilala tribals.
The Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala, a residential school for Bhil children in Kakrana on the banks of the river Narmada in Alirajpur, is anchored around the inspirational couple Bhagat Singh Davar and Velati Bai in more senses than one. Bhagat suffered from polio as a child and his legs became so deformed and weak that he ccould move around only on his hands which have consequently become muscular along with his upper torso. On the other hand, his wife Velati Bai is blind. Bhagat is a trustee of the school while Bai helps him in caring the tribal kids.
The deformity did not discourage Bhagat when he studied in school. Later, when Bhagat along with others established Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala, he joined as a teacher. And now, he has evolved into an expert in English language teaching having taken teacher training courses.
Bhav Singh, a Class 8 student, says, “Bhagat sir explains the English texts so well that we have no difficultly in answering the questions.”
Kemat Gavle, the director and fellow trustee of the school, talking to Hindustan Times said, “Bhagat’s dedication to the school is what keeps it running. Apart from teaching work, he also sees to it that the living experience of the children in the hostel is of top class quality. Since he is physically challenged, he was not getting a life partner. Then we found a blind Adivasi woman from Jhandana village nearby for him and now they are happily married with three children -- a girl and two boys.”
“The school provides a safe and supportive environment to both of us and we don’t at all feel that we are physically challenged. That is why we give back to the school all we can to keep it running as it means everything to us,” said Bai.
Swapan Bhattacharya, a retired scientist of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, also resides in this school and provides various inputs for its functioning.
“Bhagat Sir has an excellent scientific temper. Earlier when his children fell ill he used to rush to the nearby town to consult a quack and get some irrational medicines injected. However, when I explained to him the causes of the various common ailments and their simple allopathic remedies, he agreed to try them out on a trial basis. When these medicines cured his children, he immediately switched to this system.”
Asked about his future plans, Bhagat says, “I am studying for my graduation through distance education and I intend to do specialization in education so that I can become an even better teacher.”