Education dispels darkness…..for Tulasi Apa, this adage is what drives her. Born just after a month after India gained independence in the Keonjhar district of Odisha, Tulasi was different and was always conscious of her rights to education, equality, and freedom. Sadly, born in one of the most backward districts of Odisha these fundamental rights were denied to her. Whenever Tulasi wanted to study she was told that, “A poor tribal girl should learn to live in darkness and never dream of doing things differently.”
Circumstances were not conducive and she would often have to stay back at home to help her widowed mother with the household chores. She had to give up on her dreams of learning to read and write as there was no school in the vicinity of her village, Kainshi. Moreover, schooling for a tribal girl child was unheard of in those days. Soon she had to leave her own village in search of work. She shifted with her elder sister in another village Serenda in the Keonjhar district and started working as a laborer.Hope and faith are something that she never gave up and would often try to learn the alphabets.
The year 1961 brought about a huge change in Tulasi’s life. She came in close contact with some great women like Malti Chaudhary, Roma Devi and Nirmala Deshpande who were working towards providing education to women in the rural sector. Tulasi was not one to be left behind and soon she was a part of their village forays. This was also the time when she came in close contact with Vinobha Bhave and joined his Bhoodan Andolan Yatra to improve the lives of the poor people of her village.
Tulasi’s Journey of Becoming a Torch Bearer
Tulasi, however, firmly believed that education is the only way to free her people from the clutches of poverty, unemployment, superstitious and fear. Nobody supported her in this endeavor. Not one to give up easily, Tulasi persuaded the local Pradhan to allow her to use his veranda for teaching every day for a few hours. Thus began her uphill journey. As more and more children trickled into her veranda, she shifted her school to a place under a Mahua tree.
Hard work and sincerity is the key to success. After fifty years of non-stop struggle, Tulasi was able to build 17 schools and successfully educate more than 20,000 boys and girls. She was awarded the Padmashri in the year 2001, for her undying zeal and her spirit to bring about a change. She was successful in dispelling darkness from the lives of many. Her school ‘Adivasi Vikas Samiti Schools’ provides education to more than 500 students of which mostly are girls.
Heralded as a change agent, she was the first tribal woman to understand the importance of education. Born in a society where girls are often married off at an early age, she fought for own rights and became successful in lighting the lamp of education and knowledge in her village.