How a Chakma School in Diyun is Changing Lives
Photographs by Sudharak Olwe
Every morning, the green foliage and flooded roads in Diyun are greeted by early morning travellers. Clad in white uniform, they negotiate muddy stretches with shoes and socks in hand. Some of them walk up to three hours to reach their destination: the SNEHA school in Diyun circle, Arunachal Pradesh, located a day and a half’s travel away from Guwahati.
SNEHA was started in 2003 by Sushant Chakma, a first generation school goer from the Chakma community, to address the desperate need for education of the Chakmas.
Sushant Chakma’s parents were amongst the 35,000-odd Chakmas who were forced to migrate from Bangladesh to Arunachal Pradesh in 1964 due to communal violence and the displacement caused by the Kaptai hydroelectric dam. Despite being offered valid migration certificates by the government, the Chakmas have faced severe social discrimination.
During the anti-Chakma wave in Arunachal in 1994, stories abounded of Chakma students being physically beaten and arbitrarily expelled from government schools. In Diyun, the area where the SNEHA school is now located, a secondary school constructed by the Chakma community on a self-help basis was burnt to the ground in 1994. The doors to schools in Arunachal remained firmly closed for the Chakma communities for four years to come.
It was in this backdrop that the SNEHA school was started by Sushant and other first generation school goers from the Chakma community, with the hope of providing quality education to Chakma children.
When it started in 2003, SNEHA school had a small thatched bamboo structure and 109 students from the Chakma and Hajong communities. Over time, the school’s emphasis on extracurricular activities, its quality of education and interactive learning style earned it a favourable reputation in the area. Gradually, it started pulling students from other communities, including those that have been against citizenship rights for Chakmas. Manoj Bhushan, a Marwari small trader, explains why he sends his son to SNEHA: “The school building may not be good, but I have heard from many people that what they teach and how they teach is what makes the difference.”
Today, SNEHA school has around 500 students from different ethnicities. By interacting with peers from different communities, the students of SNEHA are learning to overcome deep-rooted feelings of hatred for their co-tribes. In a society which is still torn apart by ethnic discrimination and conflict, SNEHA has emerged as a microcosm of communal harmony.
To learn more about SNEHA, visit http://sneha.org.in/
The narrative for this photo story draws on National Foundation for India’s “Northeast: Voluntary Action and Vision” report authored by Chitra Anhanthem and Bonnie Konyak, and published in 2011 by National Foundation for India (http://www.nfi.org.in/).