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Dhamma Dipa saga

Syed Sajjad Ali
A deserted site and stomping ground of terrorists and militants a decade ago, has become an ideal centre of learning and has even attracted the attention of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Within a short span of five years, a famous school has sprung up on the site and was graced by a visit from the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was the chief guest at the 5th Annual Day celebration of the school on January 17.

The credit for transforming desolate, barren land into the celebrated Dhamma Dipa School to educate tribal children living in remote interiors of Tripura, is unanimously given to its founder and principal Dr. Ven Dhammapiya — monk, scholar and educationist.

Five years ago with a tiny enrollment of 30 boys and 20 girls, Dhammapiya established a primary school in Manu Bankul, 160 km south of Agartala, the administrative capital of the north-eastern state of Tripura (pop. 3.5 million). Currently the KG-class VI Dhamma Dipa School has 500 students, separate boys and girls’ hostels and several school buses. And if all goes according to plan, a new class will be added every year.

The establishment of the area’s first formal school has enthused the local tribal population with several local residents having donated land to the school. "I have an ambitious dream — I want to set up a university and an education complex with all modern amenities. This goal will be achieved by 2020," vows Dhammapiya.

Initially the school attracted local students. But now students from across Tripura have begun to enroll as boarders. Behind this success story which is now attracting international interest, is a saga of determination to promote a school in an area which was hitherto a hot bed of militant activity and where people were completely cut off from modern life.

Exasperated by the wretched conditions of local tribals, three youths of the Bankul area — Nifrunchai Mog, Thaichoi Mog and Ucchai Mog — promoted the Bahujan Hitai Trust in 1999 with the object of providing primary education to backward and illiterate tribals in the area. On land donated by Madhu and Anju Mog, a rudimentary straw hut for provision of primary education was constructed through voluntary labour.

The strenuous education acquisition efforts of the remote Mog tribe — one of 19 indigenous clans of Tripura — attracted widespread attention, parti-cularly of Dr. Dhammapiya who with the help of the Bahujan Hitai Trust established the day-cum-residential Dhamma Dipa School in 2002. The then consul general of Japan R.K. Kikuchi inaugurated the school, which offers teaching in the English, Hindi and Bengali mediums.

The moving force of the school, Dr. Dhammapiya started life in a remote undeveloped village named Shukna Charri. At the age of 10 he took the holy vows of a monk and after completing school education, proceeded to Hyderabad for higher studies. After acquiring a Master’s in philosophy from Central University, Hyderabad, he pressed on to acquire a Ph D from Bombay University. Subsequently he was appointed professor of philosophy at the Government College in Sabroom, Tripura.

While teaching at the college, Dhammapiya became aware of the urgent need to spread the light of education among the state’s illiterate tribals. Fortunately he found a benefactor in Ms. Mejaricharan of Ram Khameyang, Myanmar (aka Burma), wife of a successful businessman in Yangon. With her initial endowment and continuous donations from the public, Dhamma Dipa School is being constantly developed.

The school has transformed into a mission for a vast number of people as far a field as Japan and United States. The school’s ambience and dedication of the people who have built it deeply moved HH the Dalai Lama, who complimented the people for their noble efforts and with his presence, transformed the annual day programme into a mega event for the entire population in the area as well as the state.

March 2007                                                                              
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