Social Enterprise - Visit To Muhammad Bazar Block In Birbhum Dist
I spent a day in the area where Muhammad Bazar Backward Classes Development Society (MBBCDS) has been working, visiting the 2 schools, talking to the women involved in the livelihood generation programs and others working for the empowerment of women in the area. Association for India’s Development (AID) has been supporting the group since 2008.
The population of the area is mainly comprised of the Santhal tribe and part of the population is also Muslim. MBBCDS works with both these communities as they are both exploited and marginalized. The main forms of livelihood in the area are based on agriculture, brick-kiln contract work, casual labourers in the stone quarries and ricemill and a few days that are available through MGNREGA. I was travelling with Ayesha Khatun the main coordinator of MBBCDS.
The children at both the schools including Jambuni Child Care centre were extremely lively and engaging. I have seen this with most Santhal communities. Art, song and dance are so deeply ingrained in their living existence that it becomes a necessity for living. At the slightest provocation, the children break into a song or a dance. And when one of them sings everyone else begins to clap in unison.
MBBCDS admits children up to Class IV at the Jambuni Centre. The original language of the Santhal is Hor or Olchiki which does not have any resemblance to Bengali. The language is being lost and increasingly the tribal are being forced to become mainstreamed.
The main reason why the Santhal children are not able to do well in the Govt. primary school is because the language of instruction there is Bengali and the children fail to comprehend and either drop out fail repeatedly.
The education at the Jambuni Centre is very sensitive to the tribal children. There are at least 2 teachers who are from the Santhal community and speak the language very well. They help ease the transition of the children. Five children have already gone to the Govt. primary school. The school runs upto Class IV after which the children go to the Govt. primary school. Out of the 6 teachers there is 1 sports teacher and 1 art teacher.
MBBCDS has been very active in helping the Santhal community hold on to their culture that is so important to them. They have done this by supporting the musical instruments that Santhals use and by incorporating singing and dancing in the curriculum of the children.
I talked to the children who had attended the primary school but had left and come to the Jambuni centre to study. In most of my conversations children said the teacher did not teach anything but just asked them to do homework and read on their own. Whatever little was taught was incomprehensible to the children.
In the picture on the right the children were writing in Olichiki using Bengali script.
The school runs from 1pm to 4.30pm in the winter and from 6am to 10am in the summer time. Mid-day meal is served at 1pm before the school begins.
I also had the opportunity to talk to a few parents whose children were students at the Jambuni Centre. They were very appreciative of the school and also talked a bit about the exploitation at the illegal stone quarries and the difficulty they had finding livelihoods. MBBCDS's involvement in the society there is very holistic where it engages with the issues of livelihood, fighting corruption and exploitation and creating conducive atmosphere for Santhali culture to flourish.
MBBCDS works with women to provide opportunities for economic independence which is closely linked to their independence in society in general. MBBCDS has organized women to be able to produce clothing and accessories which they are able sell at national fairs and selected outlets. Being able to find spaces in today's market to sell handmade clothing at a fair price is not trivial.
MBBCS has worked for several years in these villages to campaign against under-age marriage of the girls. Several of the young girls I met told me about the conversations they would have with their parents about marriage – that they would not get married till they passed higher secondary. There have been instances in the villages where girls have been forced to marriage . The girls have organized themselves and put pressure on the family to let the girl stay with her parents till she finishes higher secondary.
Two special forms of livelihoods
I thought two things merit special mention. Firstly, the women groups have been successfully making sanitary napkins to be used by the village women. This while generating income for some women provides for the daily necessity of many and the profits stay in the village rather than being appropriated by a company.
Secondly, the MBBCDS has leased unused land and dug a pond in it where women SHGs raise fish to be sold in the local market. In the remaining part of the land, they grow vegetables also to be sold in the local market. This engages hundreds of women across the villages. This is a model we can follow in many of our other projects.
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