A Govt Teacher crosses 12km Mud Track for 1 student – Everyday
For the last eight years, a 29-year-old teacher in Maharashtra has been negotiating a perilous mud track to teach his class of one
A 12-km mud track through the hills, with 400ft drops on either side, takes Rajinikanth Mendhe to his workplace. The 29-year-old is the government-appointed schoolteacher for the village of Chandar in Bhor. More than 100km from Pune, the village is home to 15 huts whose 60 residents are probably outnumbered by snakes. For two years, Yuvraj Sangale, 8, has been the only student at the village school.
On reaching school, Mendhe’s first job is to go looking for his student. “I often spot him hiding in the trees. Sometimes I get him from his hut. I understand his reluctance. He has to go to school without friends. Why would anyone look forward to classes here?” says Mendhe, who has been making the perilous commute by bike for the last eight years.
Chandar’s desolation is profound. It takes an hour to negotiate the mud track to the village from the nearest highway. When it rains, the track turns into an impassable mess. The hamlet is in MP Supriya Sule’s constituency but villagers say she has never visited.
“Government? The last we heard from them was when officials turned up with the polio vaccine,” says a resident.
Mendhe, originally from Nagpur, says that when he started teaching in Chandar eight years ago, there were 11 children. “I had smart kids. Many dropped out because higher education facilities were 12km away, at Mangaon. Many girls were sent to Gujarat to work as daily-wage workers at farms or factories. I tried pleading with the parents to keep them in school, but soon gave up,” he says.
The Chandar village school was built in 1985. Until a few years ago, it was four walls without a roof. An asbestos sheet filled the gap recently, but nature has found ways to unsettle the teacher. “One night, a snake dropped on me from the school’s roof. A few months later, while riding my bike on the mud track, I fell on a snake. I don’t think I will survive a third encounter,” Mendhe says.
But he has improvised. Using a few wires and a tiny TV set, he has been able to rig up an “e-learning facility” despite the fact that the village has no electricity. “Village officials provided us with a 12-volt solar panel about two years ago. I use it to power a TV that screens downloaded content. I later bought two tablets to boost Yuvraj’s interest in the world beyond.”
This exposure is vital. “Other children learn and play with those of their age, but Yuvraj has just me. For him, school has become four walls with empty desks,” says Mendhe.
Yuvraj Sangle, 8, is the only student. His teacher often finds him hiding in the trees. He is reluctant to go to class as he has no friends. (Photo credit: Aditya Waikul)
Chandar’s isolation also leaves the grown-ups trapped. Livelihood here has been reduced to a few cows and stone breaking. Baban Sangale, 49, had to quit a Mumbai job to return and care for his ailing mother. Pointing towards the tall peaks, he says, “There is nothing there. We use kerosene lamps for light. Three solar-powered lamps on our street stopped working years ago and we have just about enough power (solar-generated) for one lightbulb per house and to charge phones.”
The isolation has also claimed lives. The women speak of a friend who died on the way to a hospital, 63km away. “She was suffering from high fever. We built a makeshift stretcher out of bamboo and were carrying her when she died. We get help only when we get really sick. Over time, it will get more difficult because all the young are leaving. Only the sick and the old will be left behind,” says an elderly resident.
Mendhe, too, is stuck. A zilla parishad teacher can apply for a transfer after five years, but relocations are based on vacancies.
Manoj Andure, who teaches at a village school nearby, is also looking to get a transfer. Originally from Ahmednagar, he too is a zilla parishad teacher. But unlike Mendhe’s lone charge, Andure has nine students under his care. He helped guide the TOI team to Mendhe’s school. “It’s a miracle that he has been coming here for eight years,” he says, referring to his fellow teacher.
Both teachers live with their families in Khanapur, 50km away. Andure uses the same mud track as Mendhe every day. “Mendhe sir and I haven’t told our families how remote our schools are. They will worry. We hardly take time off and even when we take leave, it is extremely hard for teachers from other areas to fill in for us,” adds Andure.
Yuvraj, meanwhile, sits alone in a corner while the two teachers discuss governance and infrastructure. His best friend left for Kolhapur last year — part of the migration to towns and cities. “Rohit and I used to play football,” he says. “He comes during the summer vacations. That’s all I look forward to.”