Incidentally, the people here, as a whole, are impeccably dressed in traditional garb. The Shankardeva Vidya Niketan

School is one of sixteen run in Guwahati by Vidya Bharati, part of the educational wing of the RSS. This school is 36 years old and has 700 students. It maintains a standard as good or better than local Christian missionary schools. Four languages are taught: Assamese, Hindi, English and Sanskrit. Students regu- larly score well on tests and have a reputation for good conduct and refined manners, ac- cording to Pranjeet Pujari. Every class begins with a few minutes of

meditation, and the day ends with the entire school singing in unison Vande Mantaram, the national song in praise of Mother India. As the children departed, hundreds touched the feet of the principal, Chitra Medhi Das, seeking her blessings as they left for home. Pranjeet told us their city schools are well õôõL

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the impressionable minds of our kids ‘silent killing.’” The missionary schools were here long before Vidya Bharati was established. In the evening we visited the headquarters

of Sewa Bharati—which included a small youth hostel for tribal boys—in the Adingiri ô K ! S 3 õ

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acquainted with Assam’s early sunset at this time of year (October). It became pitch black shortly after 5pm! India does not observe daylight saving time, and Assam is on the eastern end of the country’s compromise of three time zones made into one. The practical consequence of this was traversing several kilometers of poor road in the dark.

During our visit, a conference of RSS vol-

unteers was taking place. The center fre- quently hosts such functions. Sewa Bharati manages various education, health, relief and rehabilitation projects. It was currently exam time, so the boys were deeply immersed in their studies, but they took a moment to greet us with a Vedic chant. They all study at a nearby Vidya Bharati school. The 35 boys belong to 17 out of Assam’s 34

districts, as well as some neighboring states. They encompass a wide range of religious practice and belief, according to Vikal, but each is encouraged to follow his own tradi- tion. Some, he explained, follow the Bathow God. There are children from Mizoram who practice Buddhism, others from Assam who

having their harvest weighed and heading home. They were tired, and not in the mood to talk, but were willing to be photographed, giving Thomas a marvelous opportunity. I had seen women carrying heavy packages of picked tea in movies and TV serials, but in person it was a moving experience. When we reached the school, the young

girls were ready to welcome us by washing our feet while chanting Vedic hymns and singing bhajan. In North India men do not normally accept women doing this for them. With folded hands, I requested them to greet us by putting a tilak on our forehead. The children gave a short presentation by

follow Shankardeva and the ­ö 3 P & - na, while still others, from Meghalaya, who follow their tribal form of worship. Vikal explained Sewa Bharati’s approach:

“We do not ask the students to worship any Hindu Gods or Goddesses, but instead ask them to worship Mother India, the heroes of Assam and even the rivers of the Northeast. The basic idea is to inculcate honor and love in them for their native roots and their coun- try. We do not interfere with their individual way of worship. It is the policy of all Sangh Pariwar organizations to help people main- tain their individual identities. This contrasts with the Christian missionaries who are en- gaged in changing their identify by conver- sion. There are such missionaries active in this district right now.” The Ekal Vidyalaya project at Kathiatoli,

Kandoli Tea Estate, is about 200 km east of Guwahati. We arrived as the tea workers— mostly women—were winding up their day,

Bathou Temple Worship in the Bodo Tradition

chanting Vedic mantras and some prayers, but given the lack of light, were then sent home. The electrical supply to the school was unreliable, and a clear hindrance to its functioning. We were able to talk with the school’s teacher, Pushpanjali Munda, who said that 40 to 50 come daily. Most attend government school in the morning; but for some the Vidyalaya is the only schooling they receive. Assam has some 2,200 Ekal schools, each with a single teacher. During our stay in Guwahati, we visited

Vivekananda Kendra at Paan Bazar and later the Vivekananda Institute of Culture

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30 hinduism today april/may/june, 2017

all photos: thomas l kelly

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