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Wary of people, things and the future

Jayashree Narayanan, August 13, 2015, DHNS 0:00 IST

Alternative schooling

Around this time last year, a seven-year-old boy, Bobby* was practising for a special performance at his school on Sri Aurobindo’s birthday which falls on Independence Day. But this year, an air of unease and dullness envelops the boy, a student of Mirambika Free Progress School located at South Delhi’s Sarvodaya Enclave.

Amidst protesting parents who are demanding the Aurobindo Ashram-run Mirambika Free Progress School to take back the children to the school’s original building or ‘before April 14 ecosystem’, and the commercial management headed by Pranjal Jauhar not ready to budge, the 170 students of the school are the ones suffering.

Says a petitioner, father of a girl student and an advocate by profession, “We had enrolled our children into this alternative school, a Free Progress and integral education school. Free Progress means there is no syllabus, there are no standardised books and there are no tests and exams. The child is supposed to learn the art of learning. Because, spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo says that the first principle of education is ‘Nothing can be taught’.

That was the concept based on which we put our children here.” He adds, “Integral education means that the child must develop physically, emotionally and spiritually together. With those principles, and based on the track record of the school for the past 30 years or more, the concept had the ideal ecosystem. The classrooms did not have doors, they were full of light and full of air.”

Elaborating on the environment, another parent says, “There were more open spaces than doors, signifying the free flow of elements and people. When the child used to enter such an ecosystem, the curiosity built on its own and the zeal to learn was unmistakable.”

Citing the example of his child he tells Metrolife, “A Mirambika child is quite capable of picking up the earthworm in her hand and enquiring about it. We had peacocks going into the classes and coming out unharmed and unchased by the children. We had a pair of geese. We had rabbits there. We had a bany-an tree there. And the conversation was with nature.”

As many as 45 parents have turned petitioners in the case against the construction of an engineering college in the original premises by the Aurobindo Ashram m anagement. They feel that moving the children out of that free environment not only has taken away their school, friends, and teachers, but has also taken away their dialogue with nature. Vivek Dewan, a non-petitioner and a parent whose 16-year-old daughter passed out of the school after Class 10 and his son who studies in Class 5 says, “Mirambika is not any other school. It is one of its kind.” He adds, “The uprooting of the children has left them disturbed and they feel it is a permanent thing.”

“That ecosystem has been denied to the children with these two moves, one in April and the other on July 1. The society is working against the principle of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother,” says a mother, whose daughter complains of stomach ache every other morning to avoid going to the ashram premises.

“Such psychosomatic syndromes are common when their sense of safety and security are threatened,” says a psychotherapist within the group of petitioners who have been sitting on round-the-clock dharna for more than a month.

While some students express through writing poems, others have become clingy and try avoiding school. “Nahi jaana hai school. Mera bahut peth dukh raha hain. (I do
not want to go to school. I have stomach ache.) That is what the children say. That itself shows a lot of trauma,” says another parent.

Volunteers and teachers, popularly called diyas have been allegedly sacked impromptu or have been asked not to say a word. Anita Hooda, an ex-volunteer who was teaching Hindi since the last 10 years to the Class 1 students, says, “Volunteers with the management are still there. Four have been asked to leave for asking questions
supporting the children.”

“When are we going back?” is a question that many of the children ask every day, wondering about their uncertain future. The dharna right opposite the school has ‘started to put pressure’ mention the parents. While the management of the Ashram-run school refuses to comment on the matter saying ‘sub judice’, online petitions and Twitter and Facebook platforms have been pouring in with support. Cricketer Virender Sehwag who tweeted in support told Metrolife, “My tweet is my support to Mirambika.”

Another parent sums up, “It is the children who have the right. We are the proxies of the children and hope that the people inside (the school) see their responsibility to the children. They are afterall, the true occupants of the building.”
*Names have been changed and withheld on request.

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