BAHRAIN-Few hours at Gulf Air’s transit here gives you an inkling of the dislocation that first-time migrant workers from Nepal to West Asia feel. There is a girl from Dhading headed for Lebanon. Barely out of her teens, she is functionally illiterate. Let alone English, she can’t hold a conversation with fellow Nepalis even in Nepali.
Another girl from Sindhupalchok valiantly tries interpreting her Tamang into Nepali, comprehensible to a boy from Sunsari who assures both newcomers that they are not stranded and will be leaving for their destination in about four hours.
A group of skinny boys from Dhanusha in plastic chappals are on their way to a construction site in Dubai. Their leader appears well fed and enquires confidently in Hindi about onward connections. He is a canteen attendant responsible for cleanliness of cooking utensils.
Ganesh is an eighth-grade dropout of Yadukoha high school, the cradle of rebellious youths in northeast Dhanusha. He doesn’t know it, but a sadhu named Ram Lakhan Das began the revolutionary intervention that made Ganesh what he is today. Ram Lakhan had made it his life’s mission to spread the light of education in what was then called Khesraha Praganna.
Ram Lakhan had been a Kayastha boy before his initiation into Vaishnav cult. He knew the importance of education in transformation of a society but had no resources to fund dozens of school that he wanted opened. He first approached Pahadi jamindars who had large landholdings, but found most possessed very small hearts. Then he tried to appeal to the vanity of Madhesi traders and farmers and managed to establish over 15 schools in less than a decade.
The modus operandi of the sadhu was disarmingly simple. He would arrive at the house of a person of means, drive his stake into the ground and declare that he would fast onto death if his devotees didn’t contribute as much as they could for a community school. This is the way he persuaded the landlords to establish almost every school of the region. Schools still bear the name of their main donors, but there are no statues of the Sadhu who dreamt up the educational revolution in the first place.
Most of these donors were Sudis, moneylenders who had grown rich by dealing in grain and credit. Since they weren’t regarded highly by society despite their wealth, they yielded easily to appeals for charity. The genius of the Sadhu lay in identifying the emotional needs of traders and using it creatively for social good.
Modernity has made the descendants of philanthropists look for salvation in the market economy. So neither is there a sadhu with the mind of Ram Lakhan Das anymore nor are there donors with hearts like Ekai Hathi of Yadukoha, Sitaram Sah of Bafai or Ramnarayan Purbe of Sonigama. Once famous schools now languish in neglect as voluntary dropouts like Ganesh become disapora canteen assistants. But if they are leaders in whatever they do, part of the credit must go to community schools and their pioneering teachers.
There are no public schools anymore. There are government schools and then there are private boarding schools, both equally ineffective in providing affordable and quality education. Teenagers from middle-class families no longer trust local schools for secondary education.
Transportation costs to and from Kathmandu have gone up and living expenses in the capital have soared. The trend to send teenagers to Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Patna is again on the rise. Once they enter the job market, they will not be able to bridge the gap with Tamangs from Dhading and Sindhupalchok or Yadavs from Sunsari or Muslims from Banke.
Foundations of nations are laid in the minds of the young. Nepal needs more sadhus and Sudis to popularise three Rs so that the fourth R of remittances improve in the short term. There is more to wealth creation than just moneymaking. The traders of Kathmandu would do well to go on a pilgrimage to Dhanusha to learn altruism.