This was the start point of our journey to social service.
We just happened to be there in North Bengal region from tourism perspective, as this region is very strategically located. We landed in Bagdogra Airport, from where we were supposed to head either towards Darjeeling or Gangtok, as the destination was dependent on availability of hotel reservation, we had to standby for a while in the nearby city, which was Siliguri or Jalpaiguri. Incidentally, we happened to meet this cab driver who explained the other possibilities too. From that location 50 Kms any side was a different country – west was Bhutan, North was Nepal, East was Bangladesh and south was India – West Bengal. And just about 80 Kms down was a place called Binnaguri, wherein our Trustee Mr. Madhukar Swayambhu had stayed as a kid, during his father’s posting in Indian Army. As the driver was also from Binnaguri and there were nostalgic memories attached, we decided to visit Binnaguri for a day and get closer to nature.
Binnaguri is a town located in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal state, India. It is located at 26° 46′ 0N latitude and 89° 2′ 60E longitude at an altitude of 216 meters above sea level. It lies close to the Bhutan and Nepal border, the Bhutanese town of Samchi being 10 km to the north, in deep Dooars country. Tea gardens are nearby, prominent amongst which are the Binnaguri Tea Estate (Binnaguri Tea Co. Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata), Moraghat Tea Estate (Binnaguri Tea Co. Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata), Telepara Tea Garden, Banarhat Tea Garden, Karbala Tea Garden, Lakhipara Tea Garden, and Gandrapara Tea Garden. The decline in the tea industry has increased the poverty and unemployment in the neighboring areas. Most of the employment opportunities are in the Army cantonment, apart from the tea gardens.
The nearest place of tourist interest is the Jaldapara National Park 30 kilometers from the town.
Till now it was an adventurous trip, but we didn’t know what destiny had in store for us.
We were simply enjoying the serenity of nature, away from city life of a metropolitan like Delhi. It was lush green everywhere, recent rains had brushed up the entire environment, and filling up the seasonal rivers and the small ponds and lakes around, air was fresh and cooler naturally. Road were a bit bumpy but scenic beauty and soothing breeze of fresh air had compensated for it and made the experience way beyond pleasant.
Finally, as all good things come to an end, so did our journey and we arrived at Binnaguri. Just a small flock of some villages on the outskirts of a Cantonment. Primarily you can see some small time shops, a tea Garden and lavish gate of an Army Cantonment. Too small to be called a town, but bigger than a village. The day went pretty well and we enjoyed the journey and meeting some old batch mates and had fun, not knowing what destiny had in store for us for the corresponding days.
The next day during our visit to a nearby village of Tea garden workers called “haldibari”, we saw some posters, pasted by the worker’s union of the tea gardens. The demands on the poster were petty, but it seemed that the guys there were really serious on those. We didn’t even imagine what we were about to get into.
We happened to meet one of the union workers and discussed with them on general chat that 60% of their demand listed on the poster were already allowed by Government of India. This was shocking to them. And this also opened plethora of their problems in front of us. They made us meet a couple of old guys, who had just retired after a service of 32-35 years in the Tea Garden and got a gratuity of mere ₹26-28 K. they were not being paid as per the minimum wages act. They were not being made permanent employees in spite of 2-3 years of regular service. They were not given basic medical facility. It was like a Bollywood film.
Our adventure tour, by now had become an eye opener for us, explaining the basic and grass root level of problems. That was very though provoking. We discussed the plight of these poor workers and decided to help them. They were in big numbers, they were hard working, only weakness they had was lack of knowledge of their rights and transparency with the Government policies. We updated them.
Just a 3-5 minutes of google search, made us arrive on the minimum wages act for the state of West Bengal. We found out about ESIC hospital nearby, the military hospital inside the cantonment. But this wasn’t a one day activity, this was required on a regular basis.
And that was the inception of our first project – the Birsa Munda Bhawan. We’ve taken the first steps towards bringing in the change. As the saying goes, “don’t wait for the change to happen, be the change that you want to bring”.
We’ve arranged for a donor for the land to build a community centre for the Tribals of the Land in the name of the Tribal Saint & freedom fighter – Veer Birsa Munda.
The land was owned by an Army Officer. A war veteran of 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, Late Lt. Col. Amod Kumar Sinha. In a modest ceremony attended by the who’s who of the region, the land was pledged by Mrs. Ranjana Sinha for building up the Birsa Munda Bhawan for the community services.
The Nobel social cause was supported by all the local political leaders.
The support extended by the local administration, Banarhat electricity department, DM office &Banarhat Police Station was commendable to make the ceremony a bliss for the people.
All the distinguished guests were welcomed by the Voluntary ladies from Haldibari Tea Garden. After the hand wash and tilak ceremony, the badges were put on to each of the invitees. Later a Tribute was paid to the Son of the soil – Veer BhagwanBirsa Munda.
In the diffident ceremony, there was a remarkable participation by tribals from the nearby area. Girls from Nagarkata Tea estate performed a tribal dance with bright colours along with live song and traditional orchestra, then there was yet another dance of hope performed by girls from Binnaguri Tea estate, little angels from Telepara tea estate preformed a mesmerizing dance sequence. The laughter bone was tickled by Jayant da from Haldibari Tea Garden.
The plan is to build up the Veer BirsaBhawan, in Telepara – Hatkola, Binnaguri. This Bhawan or the community centre will have a temple, a library – with a vast section on tribal history & culture, an office complex / information centre / kiosk to eradicate the information / knowledge poverty in the tribal of the region, a community hall for holding meetings & seminars or even other social functions, a kitchen, a washroom complex and some guest rooms on the ground floor. Some guest cottages and lecture rooms & halls on second and third floors respectively.
We’ve engaged a Delhi based Architect for designing the whole complex. Idea is to make a self-sustaining unit dedicated to development of tribes.