Unsung Heroes: Teacher takes on social evils to spread education in a backward region in Karnataka – The Indian Express

With the education scene in Karnataka getting clouded by politics and propaganda, teachers like TP Umesh, 41, come as a sigh of relief. Hailing from Amritpur, a village in Holalkere taluk of Chitradurga district, Umesh describes himself as a teacher who is “never on a holiday”.
With 12 years of teaching experience, Umesh is one of the 44 recipients who received the National Award to Teachers from President Droupadi Murmu in New Delhi on September 5, 2022. Umesh has been integral in the upliftment of not just his students but also his village as a whole. From taking on issues such as girl child marriage to child labour, Umesh has made several efforts to curb problems hampering the development of children.
A student of Taralabalu Jagadguru Vidya Samasthe, a Lingayat institution, Umesh has also found an interest in debunking superstitious beliefs of Amritpur’s Golla tribes through ‘education’.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, he explains that the region has always been backward when it comes to education. The dry terrain in the region is compatible for crops like coconut, corn, cotton, ragi, and arecanut which are seasonal. “The parents of these children who are farmers are employed only for a few months in a year. For the rest of the year, they work on the fields or engage in cattle grazing. As a result, they employ small children for field work in the form of child labour. Eventually, students do not end up in schools and conform themselves to field work,” says Umesh, a teacher of Government Primary School Amritpur.
He also mentions that the villagers are married off to family members and relatives and hence at least 20 students in a classroom belong to closely-knit families. “This problem of entering into a marriage with close relatives has hindered the growth of their children. Their intelligence quotient and grasping power take a hit because they do not network and socialize with the outside world…” opines Umesh, adding that early girl child marriage and caste are also some of the factors keeping the children away from education.
For the past seven-eight years, he has collaborated with ASHA workers, anganwadi workers, teachers, health professionals, and activists to spread awareness on various social issues and in making the local population realise the importance of education. So far, he has prevented at least 40 child marriages. “I believe that education for the society takes precedence before the education of the students. If the society has inherited pre-conceived superstitions and stereotypes, it would actually snatch away the education from students. Hence, I believe that effective awareness campaigns on social issues will further open up the prospects of a child,” says Umesh.
In 2015, when two of the three classrooms in his school collapsed after heavy rainfall, he taught in a temporary tent, in a village hut for two years and sometimes under the shade of a tree until he got assistance from the government. In 2016, with the help of NGO Osat and Rotary Bangalore, he managed to garner support to construct four well-furnished rooms and toilets for boys and girls at a cost of Rs 30 lakh. He also purchased three laptops worth Rs 1 lakh with contributions from friends and donors to set up an Information and Communication Technology lab for teaching.
In fact, he painted the school at a cost of Rs 20,000 from his own pocket in 2020, to make it attractive to children. To ensure that students are not deprived of education during the pandemic, he introduced a unique campaign called Missed Call Kodi Pata Keli (Give a missed call to learn).
“I am a teacher who is never off duty. I cannot stand a day without teaching. Hence, I introduced this campaign which is effective even now. I don’t believe in managing any one subject. I am ready to address the doubts of children in all subjects and through this campaign I have dealt with doubts of the students in multiple subjects,” says Umesh who is also the author of six literary works that serve as reading material for his students.
Speaking about the influence of mutts in education in Chitradurga, Umesh says, “As a student of a religious institution, I feel mutts are actually a source of livelihood for many in backward regions like Chitradurga. It is not only about seeking education in mutts but it is about getting three meals a day and a place to sleep. Mutts influence in education in Chitradurga predates Independence…”
Commenting on the controversy over Murgha Mutt seer recently being booked under the POCSO Act, Umesh says, “You cannot take away the sentiments of the children or the villagers from the mutts. People always have a special regard for mutts in Chitradurga.”
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