“I’m passionate about the issue of education. The fact that I have managed to make change possible brings people to me with their problems. I do not want to be slotted as an educational activist but when a community comes to you with their problems, you cannot show them the door. Once you hear it and once you are witness to it, the issue becomes your responsibility.”
He has stopped rampant bribery in the name of education. Dilapidated school buildings were brought to the attention of the authorities and have been renovated and upgraded. Dysfunctional schools have been put back in order. In the state of Jharkhand where the quality of education is abysmal, 20 year old Mukesh Rajak, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Deogarh district and his trusty camera have become an unrelenting movement, a quiet revolution that documents, challenges and changes the malpractices and misdemeanours that plague the Indian Education system is some of the most remote rural areas in his state.
Between a boy and his camera, previously closed avenues of a promising future have now been opened for hundreds of young minds.
How did he find the story for his latest campaign for change?
“I was producing a story on contemporary practices of caste-discrimination when I visited the Harijan colony to scout for stories. I was resting in the shade of the Government Primary School compound when a teacher passed my way. I remarked to the teacher that I was impressed with the infrastructure of the school. That was when the teacher, Mr. Suresh Chandra Mehra, told me that the all staff in the school, from administration to teaching 125 students across 4 grades, was limited solely to one person - him,” says Mukesh.
“For over two years, he, the students and the parents had reached the end of the line trying to bring the situation to the attention of the authorities. The teacher seemed helpless against the bureaucracy. Immediately, I offered my support and guaranteed him change.”
Mukesh set about compiling the evidence. He interviewed the students, the parents and the teacher. He documented the barely functioning system in the school that rested uneasily on the shoulders of one weary teacher. Picking out the most illustrative of the clips he went and met the Block Education Officer. The footage was screened. In accordance with the prescribed number for a school with 125 students, Mukesh made demands for three more teachers.
When it comes to education, the state of Jharkhand languishes at the bottom of the list. Only 59% of students enrolled under the Right To Education Act, which was enabled to provide free and compulsory education to all children within the age group of six and fourteen years, are currently attending classes. 60% of students in Jharkhand finish their primary education without gaining minimum required educational standards. Due to unfavorable conditions and unremitting demands of the profession, the acute shortage of teachers continues to worsen. Teacher - student ratios are far below the prescribed standards of one teacher per 30 students.
“In the light of these facts, I was informed that my demand for 3 additional teachers could not be met immediately. However, it was possible that one teacher be instated and the request for the additional two could be considered in the near future.“
While it still fell short the required numbers, for Government Primary High School in Harijan Colony, Madhupur, the odds of quality education improved from 125 to 1 to a more reasonable 63 to 1. The teacher, the students and their parents are a much relieved lot.
For Mukesh and his camera, however, the fight doesn't end here. Not until the odds come down to 30 to 1. Not until Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, begins to sing.
So how do you use your videos to create change? What’s the secret?
“People ask me how I use video to create change and the first thing I tell them that it is not as easy or as romantic as it seems. You must persevere. You should be ready to be pushed around and I do mean it literally. There is no script to follow. You will end up wandering corridor after corridor in government offices. You have to seek a point of entry where you can negotiate your way into the system.”
“On my own, my capabilities are limited. If I have not managed to turn some issues into successful impact and change, it is solely because it is beyond my reach. At the grassroots, within my community, I can run around trying to show my videos to the public and the local authorities but I cannot breach higher levels of bureaucracy and governance on my rickety scooter with my old laptop. I’m still a green lemon activist but I am trying my best. Only time can bring me more experience and extend my influence.”
“IndiaUnheard has an international audience online. Some of them are more capable and have more reach than I do. If they are passionate about an issue and they want to reach out and help me bring social change, I will be very happy.”
“After all, on the Internet, we’re all part of one big community.”