A teacher who writes poems, creates Mithila paintings ingrains quest for education in students of Bihar

A teacher who writes poems, creates Mithila paintings ingrains quest for education in students of Bihar

A teacher who writes poems, creates Mithila paintings ingrains quest for education in students of Bihar

Chandana Dutt not only builds an identity for herself as the first shiksha mitra to win the teachers' national award, but also facilitates her students to earn their place in life

Madhubani, Bihar: At the Ranti Higher Secondary School in Madhubani, Chandana Dutt (49) is reading a story to her students. The theme revolves around the identity crisis that married women in Bihar face, wherein they are not known by their own name but as gudia ki amma or maa (mother of her first child). The bahu (daughter-in-law) or wife is never addressed by her own name.

“The story is very close to my heart as this question troubled me a lot in my childhood. Therefore, right from my early days, I wanted to become a successful woman whom people will recognise by my own name… Both my sisters got married before graduation, but I managed to complete it in 1996 and got married the next year,” says Chandana.

Her zeal for success did reflect in her work when she joined the school as shiksha mitra in 2005. Her salary was just Rs 1,500 per month. “When I joined the middle school in 2003, the student strength was between 400 and 500. However, they were not attending classes regularly, especially girls. After two years, Chandana and some more teachers joined. At that time, we decided to visit Muslim and Dalit tolas (colonies) to motivate parents to send their children to school,” Lal Dev Kamat, Chandana’s colleague, tells 101Reporters.

According to Kamat, Chandana used to go to the Dalit colony holding her infant son all along. Some people opposed this act, but she did not stop. Gradually, her dedication started to bear fruits, as she kept on motivating girl children and their parents. When she started out, only 10% of girl students were coming to the school. Fast forward to 2024, the school boasts of nearly 60% attendance of girls. 

"It was not so easy to convince parents as girl children were doing household work and taking care of their younger siblings. They felt that learning household chores was more important as it will be useful after marriage," says Chandana

Chandana with her girl students (Photo - Saurabh Chaubey, 101Reporters)

Fighting societal barriers

Chandana entered the teaching profession when her son was just one year old. At that time, the Bihar government had not made provisions for leave for shiksha mitras. She had to hear a lot when she joined the school. Her relatives fussed over the decision, asking what was the need to join the school for Rs 1,500.

Undeniably, shiksha mitra’s job was not considered good at that time. Chandana’s middle class family did not want her to do that job, despite her father-in-law late Pratap Narayan Dutt and grandfather-in-law late Rama Prasad Dutt being social workers. Rama Prasad had worked to promote literacy and had built a library at Ranti to educate children. However, when it came to Chandana, his major concern was that the daughter-in-law of the house would visit Muslim and Schedule Caste tolas.  

Nevertheless, Chandana had always done things differently. After her marriage to Sunil Kumar Saroj, a realtor, she too became busy running the household like other women. However, she did not see household chores as the only option before her. She spent hours in the library that Rama Prasad had built, reading anything and everything that came her way.

“The art of Mithila painting has been prevalent in our villages and families for centuries. I used to do Mithila paintings before, but I learnt its nuances after marriage. My mother-in-law and grand mother-in-law Padma Shri Godawari Dutt taught me everything in detail,” says Chandana, while recalling that her first painting, done on a silk cloth, was sold for Rs 700. She shares that her house is visited by foreigners who are keen to see and learn about Mithila paintings.

During the COVID-19 period (2020-21), when unemployment increased and people were struggling to get two meals a day, Chandana’s family launched a face mask business. She went to the Dalit and Muslim colonies along with her students and gave work orders to make masks with Mithila paintings etched over them. Once these products became ready, she began to sell them to her relatives and acquaintances.

She claims to have sold over 10,000 face masks, the profit of which went to the artists themselves. She also involved her students in the business to ensure that they learn a new activity and are engaged fruitfully. 

Not just that, Chandana made women of Dalit and Muslim tolas literate. “Under Akshar Aanchal Yojana, our team visited their hamlets to teach women how to write their names. At that time, they used to tell us, ‘hum log is umra me padh-likhkar kya karenge [what will we do at this age after becoming literate?]’. Now they thank us for our endeavour. At present, we motivate our students to teach their parents and other family members to write their names and do basic accounting,” Chandana explains.

(From left)Chandana and Principal Dr Chandan Kumari (Photo - Saurabh Chaubey, 101Reporters)

What changed in 19 years?

Chandana will complete two decades of teaching in the school next year. Many things have changed for the school in the last 19 years. Earlier, education was only up to class 7. Class 8, class 10 and class 12 upgrades happened in 2007, 2020 and 2023, respectively. At the time she joined the school, some of the classrooms were made of bamboo. The building was renovated to a concrete structure after delegates from Japan donated the necessary funds.

Chandana's way of teaching is different. She includes elements of Mithila paintings and their stories in her classes. The children also liked this method, and they started to discuss this new concept  with their friends, due to which the attendance began to increase.

The school has only two classrooms to house students of class 9 to 12 and three teachers — Chandana, Principal Dr Chandan Kumari and Dr Jyoti Kumari, a Hindi teacher on deputation. There are no subject teachers for mathematics and science.

“I have worked with Chandana for a year. She is very hard working and talented. We are trying to improve the quality of education, but lack of teachers and infrastructure are the hurdles. We have written to the district education officer and district magistrate in this regard. We need a separate campus for the safety of students as the present school has no boundary wall. Post-school timings, it becomes a den of anti-social elements. There is no water supply to bathrooms. It is difficult to stay here for a long time without basic facilities,” Principal Dr Chandan Kumari tells 101Reporters.

Soon after her marriage, Chandana had learnt Mithila akshar (script of Maithili). “I did a Master of Arts course in Maithili. It has come handy as I now teach my students Maithili and English.” She also acquired mastery over Kaithi, Nepali, Bajjika and Bhojpuri. “I learnt these languages and scripts because I want to write in these languages… My father Dr Nityanand Lal Das and mother Malti Das always encouraged me to write stories and poems,” she adds.

Chandana ma’am teaches us Maithili and English. She also helps us to make projects on different subjects. She has taught us Mithila painting, too. Her pictorial style of teaching is unique and we love it,” attest Mansi Kumari, Aditi Jha and Chandni Kumari, all class 9 students.

Chandana has written poems and children's stories. Ganga Snan, her first book, was published in Maithili in 2013. Chahak, her collection of poems for children, got published last year with its cover page designed by her daughter Shreyasi Dutt. She has also contributed to Dalit Maithili Katha Sanchayan. Her poems are published in Kavya Kiran, and stories in more than a dozen books. She has many feathers to her cap, including Rashtriya Jeevan Gaurav Samman, 2022, Karnpriya Lalita Vishishth Kavya Pratibha Samman, 2020, and Dr S Radhakrishnan Samman, 2020.  

However, the most prestigious of Chandana’s accomplishments is the National Award to Teacher, which she received in 2021. She was the first shiksha mitra to win this award instituted by the Ministry of Education. 

(Left) Chandana with National Award to Teacher (right) Chandana with one of her old students (Photo - Saurabh Chaubey, 101Reporters)

Chandana is an artist, author and a poet, but it is the teaching profession that has given her the unique identity that she cherished since her childhood. “Teacher’s job is the best. We nourish the future of our students. It is a great responsibility and we try our best. Without the support and help from the government and society, our efforts sometimes fail. It is necessary that everyone come together for this noble cause,” she concludes.

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli

Cover Photo - Chandana teaching her students (Photo - Saurabh Chaubey, 101Reporters)

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