The school was founded in 2016 in Fangane village in Maharashtra by Yogendra Bangar. These 'students' wear their bright pink saree-uniforms and come to school
Varsha Ramachandran, Virtual Bharat
“The idea for Ajjibainchi Shaala came to me in February 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar, when asked about how the idea for a grandmothers’ school came about. His voice is warm at the other end of the phone, his tone earnest.
He goes on to say: “The ladies in the village were reading out of a paath (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s when I suggested the idea of a school for them, and the whole village rallied behind me.” It is clear he is excited at the memory of their eagerness years later. The simplicity of his idea and his earnestness is striking.
Ajjibainchi Shaala, the only school to be named after its students, was founded on March 8, 2016; on International Women’s Day in Fangane village in Maharashtra. Bangar, an activist and the zila parishad teacher of the Motiram Dalal Charitable Trust, was the brains behind the initiative. The school had a simple name, it was set up by a simple man, and the idea was also simple. However, the simplest of ideas are somehow always the most life-changing. This was a school set up solely for elderly women of Fangane, who wished to be able to pick up pencils as their children and grandchildren did and sign their names.
The Ajjibainchi Shaala is one of a kind school. It makes a lifelong dream come true for the ajjis (grandmothers). “Now when I’m asked in heaven what I did with my life, I’ll say I learnt to sign my name,” says one of the ajjis (grandmothers) with a proud smile as she looks straight into the camera, unafraid. And, why not? After all, she is now a lettered woman. Only a few women living in rural India, and of her age, can boast of the same. She has overcome. She has triumphed over society, circumstance. She has the glance of a woman who has achieved her dream, the one who can say “Yes, I did it!”
Bangar, who garnered great encouragement from families across Fangane, first took up the task of setting up the school in two living rooms in a house in the village, which remains open for only two hours a day — from 2 pm to 4 pm. His efforts have brought alive the wish that the village ajjis had thought impossible.
Today, they wear bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art — and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. They are living a life they never had access to. Pretty in pink, sprightly of step and wide toothy and toothless smiles are what their Sundays are about now.
The Ajjibainchi Shaala broke the mould and sent a shockwave of hope through not just Fangane, but all of India. It sparked inspiration in a number of other communities across the country and has given a generation who would never normally have had access to crucial knowledge of letters, numbers, hygiene, sanitation and basic rights. The ajjis today walk proudly; they answer the phone, speak up at village meetings, understand the papers that they sign and perhaps, most important of all, push the inkpads away, pick up a pen and sign their names. It’s a kind of respect and dignity that rises above age, gender and status, and makes them equals. Ajjibainchi Shala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s lesson to all of India, and it’s one of India’s proudest stories.
The film Grandmother’s School, dedicated to the ajjis of Fangane, is a part of Bharatbala’s 1000 film journey of India – Virtual Bharat. Virtual Bharat is a repository of untold human stories of India spanning people, places, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, art, craft, tradition, architecture, nature and much more. The films are under 10 minutes in length, and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel.