Weaning children away from the path of Naxalism in the tribal heartland of Lohardaga in the trouble-torn state of Jharkhand, V K Balanjinappa from Bangalore has devoted almost two decades of his life to putting the pen in the hands of these deprived tribal children and provide new meaning to their lives .
“A mother gives birth, but I give them life,” says 58-year-old Balanjinappa who started one of the first schools for tribal children in Lohardaga district in 1995. A Bangalore based teacher, he had a far reaching vision as well as unflagging zeal to take education to this Naxal-hit tribal belt.
“When I was in Bangalore, I had a dream of opening my own school. One of my friends asked me to come to Jharkhand and I readily agreed. Once I reached here and saw for myself the pathetic situation that prevails, I wanted to do whatever I could to make their lives better,” he says.
Making a small beginning, Balanjinappa started his school in a small room with only eight students. “I looked for help and it came from every quarter and in every form. A lot of tribals, agriculturists and businessmen generously contributed.” Balanjinappa’s was no overnight success; he put together the ‘building blocks’ of his school with painstaking effort over many years .
Today, this unassuming teacher’s hard work has paid off. Now, after 15 years, his school called Divine Spark Public School boasts of 800 students, a hostel, proper infrastructure and almost 100 per cent results in the 10th board exam. Without availing any subsidy from the government, he has set up this unique school on a rented plot of land, and has literally shown that money cannot buy everything. Providing free education to 150 students, he has managed to see that the rest pay only a minimal fee of `100 a month. A man of few needs, Balanjinappa has made sure that thousands of children hold a pen and not a gun.
Initially, the dropout rate was very high, therefore, Balanjinappa made an effort to visit the homes of the students and convince their parents to send their children to school. “It was like pulling these children out of quicksand. If action is not taken immediately, they will be sucked in,” he says.
Many of Balanjinappa’s students have left the jungles behind and have gone on to become bankers, pilots, government officials and teachers. The dedicated teacher feels a sense of achievement as well as relief when he hears that his students have achieved success in their respective fields.
“There is no bigger joy than seeing your students achieve success in their lives. Some months ago, a young, smart man came and touched my feet. I was surprised as I didn’t recall him. He said he was one of our first students and now he is a pilot working for a private airline from Hyderabad,” Balanjinappa recounts.
An avid follower of Swami Vivekananda’s ideals and teachings, Balanjinappa says he owes all his achievements to India’s greatest spiritual leaders. “He has protected me at every stage of my life. In 1999, some Naxals entered our hostel in the dead of night and pointing a gun at my head, locked me up in a room. In the aftermath of this incident, they also kidnapped a boy. Amid pouring rain and the dilapidated condition of the roads, the child somehow escaped from their clutches and managed to attract some tribals. The Naxals fled and the traumatised child was rescued. It was Swamiji’s grace that saved the boy that day,” Balanjinappa smiles.