A broken mountain road ascends to Niloshi village in Valsad district of Gujarat, one of the relatively prosperous states of India. Niloshi, located at a rugged end of the Western Ghat mountains, is home to one of the most backward tribes in the state.
However, on June 17, Niloshi woke up to a joyful occasion involving all households. All five-year olds in the village were to be enrolled in the village primary school on that day. They were part of a special school enrollment drive called ``Shala Pravesh Utsav’’ launched by the Gujarat State government. Niloshi, with a female literacy rate of 6.5 per cent, was determined to bring about a radical change. Parents who had never been to school were dancing and singing as they saw their little ones go to school.
`Shala Pravesh Utsav’ literally means School Entrance Festival. And the mood was surely festive. The drum-beaters whipped up a frenzy with their music and accompanying them were wind instrument players. Coloured paper flags stuck to a string hung on bamboo poles along the road. At the centre of all the activity were about thirty children, all below six years who stood in a line outside the village temple, waiting to be enrolled in school. All wore paper crowns and were clearly very pleased with all the attention they were getting. Their small hands reached out every now and then to adjust the diadems on their heads.
To chaperone them were about a hundred older children wearing their light blue school uniform, holding placards that read ``Tell us a story’’, ``Be kind to us’’, ``Do not beat us’’, ``Do not scold us’’— messages the new students were conveying to their teachers.The older students took the younger lot to school in a lively procession through the village. “I am feeling very proud of my girl who will now go to school. I am glad I decided to enroll her. I will let her study as much as she wants,” said Kanta Dhakal, mother of five-and-a half-year-old Sarika.
Next to Sarika stood five-year old Manisha, daughter of Navsu Bhoya, an illiterate farmer who remarked “Had the Shala Pravesh Utsav not been held, I would not have known that it was time for Manisha to join school. I always thought she was too small and could wait for a couple of more years.”