I did not plan it this way; this week unfolded with democracy written all over it, Kerala style. It began with a Sunday meeting at Pathanamthitta where Dalit community groups came together to meet the Pathanamthitta MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly). Later in the week, I traveled to Trivandrum to meet an advocacy group and collect statistical data from the government offices there. The advocacy group is helping the adivasi protest over the government’s decision to close AHADS (Attapadi Hills Area Development Society: http://www.ahads.org/) and I spend the day protesting with them outside the Secretariat and sitting in on strategy meetings.
The meeting with the MLA was fascinating for its display of power dynamics. Dissent was recognized as ingratitude, and the meeting escalated to fights soon after the MLA left. On the other hand, the strategy meetings were full of dissent, humour, and deliberation. The adivasis laughed over their inexperience with protests, enjoyed their moment of triumph over the Government’s decision to maintain AHADS, and despaired over the construction lobby that would dilute and destroy any political commitment to adivasi led development. They will continue their protests outside the Government Secretariat in Trivandrum and at Attapadi, singing folk songs and organizing against the most powerful and the richest lobby in Kerala today—the construction lobby. Attapadi is reserved forestland and prime target for exclusive and extensive construction sites.
A school with a difference?
There are very few educational institutions managed by the Scheduled Castes (according to community group leaders there are only 2) and the PRDS managed Amara school established in 1912 is one of them. At a time when government primary schools are desperately trying to survive, this school has more than sufficient student enrollment. The Amara school establishes its exceptionality as the school established by PRDS founder and guru Sree Kumara Gurudevan, and articulates a legacy of spiritual blessing (daivanugraham). This blessing is recognized in the number of graduates who have become doctors, engineers, and government officers.
This pattern of exceptional government schools is interesting. Though everybody agrees that public schools are loosing out to private schools, every locality seems to have at least one exceptional public school. Thiruvalla has MGM, Trivandrum has Cotton Hill and Pattom St. Mary’s, and Manthanam has Amara. Their constructions of exceptionality seem diverse but I think it will be worthwhile to look for similarities.