It was Anuradha's search for personal growth that led her to question the quality of education being imparted to future generations. "Most families here in the hills were reluctant to allow their children too much education because they would then up and leave for the big city and never come back," says Anuradha. "Much like urban Indians today leave India for new pastures abroad," she adds with a smile.
The Guptas say our education system burdens these children with complexes rather than free them from the fetters of ignorance. Say the Guptas: "These rural people are aware of education as a powerful tool of progress but at the same time they would want their children to return to the fields." The couple realised that what was needed was an exploration of traditional systems of knowledge on Gandhian lines. "What the country needs today is a going back to roots and education is a powerful tool to bring us back, rediscover and rethink our systems," says Pavan.
The beginning wasn't easy. But the Guptas struggled, going from village to village, convincing families that their young - girls and boys alike - needed an education, an education that would want them to bring about change in their own environment rather than fly the roost. Today, their schools not only impart formal education but are centres for holistic growth where anything from vocational training, health and hygiene to exploring the ancient wisdom of India to ideas on upliftment of the self are taught, debated and analysed. The change they have wrought is evident in the attitudes of the local boys who today have taken on a number of the responsibilities so far shouldered by the Guptas.
Says 28-year-old Jitender, a teacher at SIDH and resident of Mussoorie: "Our education system kills interest. I'm a graduate in science but did my post-graduation in English with an 80 per cent in American literature. If you ask me today what I learnt, I won't be able to tell you, it was all by rote. At SIDH we're trying to fight the system. Today, I want to see my village educated, enlightened and prosperous as we step into the new millennium." Another local boy, Jagmohan, talks of self-development and positive thinking. "The people of SIDH are now becoming leaders in their villages and communities," says Jagmohan.
SIDH also organises seminars and camps every year, bringing the urban in touch with the rural to create a system of exchange. Their week-long camps bring in young people from as far as Mumbai and Chennai who learn as much from their rural counterparts. "We look at ourselves as missionaries and not as an ngo," says Jitender, aptly summing up SIDH's commendable work in this area.
As for funds, the Guptas started by putting in all their savings towards their dream. "We don't want funds from anyone who will try and dictate our actions. That's when one deviates from one's goal," says Pavan. Today, in recognition of their efforts, funds have started trickling in from organisations like the Save the Children Fund. But Gupta is choosy when it comes to accepting money. "These organisations often have their own agenda," he says.
And as furious debates rage in urban academic circles about the redundancy of our education systems today, the Guptas of Mussoorie seem to have found a path whose exploration could lead to a reawakening rooted in tradition.
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