Narmada Jeevanshala’s Balmela: From the (Play) Ground

12th to 15th February, 2015

The Narmada Jeevanshalas (Schools of Life) celebrated its 16th annual Balmela (Children’s fair), from 12th February to 15th February at a resettlement site of the Project Affected Families (PAFs) of the Narmada – Sardar Sarovar Dam. The resettlement site is situated in Gopalpur village of tehsil Taloda, District Nandurbar, Maharashtra. Jeevanshalas are the tribal schools run by Narmada Navnirman Abhiyan (NNNA). For the past 20 years, they have been working in the Narmada valley with an objective to impart education and life-skills to tribal children of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, who are affected by the dam and are living in the most interior, hilly areas, neglected by the State, since ‘independence’.

This year’s Balmela was inaugurated by the former Sports and Youth Minister, Mr. Padamakar Valvi, in the presence of the renowned social activist Ms. Medha Patkar, NNNA trustee Mr. Shyam Patil and other social activists, academicians and elected representatives. Some of them stayed for the whole programme which lasted for 4 days and encouraged the kids in the various activities.


Students after performing a cultural dance

Around 600 tribal children and students (studying at primary level) from 9 Jeevanshalas participated in the Balmela. There were competitions such as running, long and high jump, archery, essay writing and elocution. Each school had a team comprising of boys and girls that played two major indigenous games – Kho-Kho and Kabaddi . Each of the teams was known by their village names: Manibeli, Danel, Thuvani, Trishul, Savriya Digar, Bhabari, Bhitada, Kharya Bhadal, Jeevan Nagar resettlement site. The Balmela also had various stalls which held exhibitions on alternative source of producing energy such as solar lamps, clay pots and toys prepared by children of the Jeevanshalas, beautiful hand-made drawings, various science games for individual children, photo exhibition, Narmada literature, etc.


Girls team playing Kho-Kho


Powerful Kho-Kho

Each school had their own music band which played music as the events went on. There was a competitive sense among the small children of different music bands of different schools. They raised the drum beat to be louder than the other school without using any microphone. The Balmela started early morning and went on till late night with short breaks for meals. The outdoor games stopped at sunset. Every school was given a house by the host village in front of which the school children would line up for food. Khichdi & Daal Rice was the menu during the Balmela. After finishing the food, the plates were washed by each student—a training for self-reliance—followed by a rehearsal to perform during the night. Various cultural programs like dancing, singing, drama et al continued through the night.


Clay work by students kept for exhibition

This grand celebration was a result of the efforts of NNNA activists, with the help of Narmada Bachao Andolan activists, including Latika, Yogini, Chetan, Orsing, Siyaram, Bhagirath and the teachers of all the Jeevanshalas. Twenty young volunteers from a local college- Taloda Senior College, also helped in organizing the event with the encouragement of their Professor Mr. Jaypalsingh N. Shinde. Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, which strongly believes and supports the idea of Jeevanshalas after witnessing the talents and quest for learning in the students of Jeevanshalas at various occasions, provided financial support in organizing of the children’s fair.

A team of children from the Nayi Taleem-Anand Niketan Vidyalaya, Sewagram, Wardha made the Balmela even more colourful. All these children participated in and performed various activities with the Jeevanshala children. Rope-malkham by students of Nayi Taleem was one of the games most appreciated by all, young and old.


A girl from Nayi Taleem performing Ropemalkham

The cultural programs that lasted till midnight included drama, dance and singing competitions. The skits on tribal struggle against the British Empire under the leadership of their heroes like Khajya Naik, Bhima Naik, Tantya Bhil for land brought shivers and tears in the eyes of the audience. The large gathering of adivasis applauded the skills, concepts and talent of the children and teachers who wrote, directed and acted in it.

Follow the link to a play:


A play on a social theme

The prizes were distributed on the 15th and brought in great enthusiasm amongst hundreds of children who won in the competitions and games. Every child participant also received a colourful certificate.

When the height increase of Sardar Sarovar Dam is proceeding as a threat to the life of almost 2.5 lakh people in the 3 states of Narmada valley, the Balmela was an event that inspired the villagers, activists and children keep up their spirits and struggle. The four Jeevanshalas that drowned due to the unlawful submergence and were shifted to upper level in the mountain range have been functioning well. The children in Jeevanshalas are taught the government approved curriculum but are also engaged in agriculture, forest surveys etc.

They are also made aware of the rights of tribals to land, water, forest and development, environmental sustainability, biodiversity and participate in movement programmes. They are also made to participate in various creative activities such as house construction and cleaning. Self-reliance, personality development and widening perspective are their motto. Education in Jeevanshalas is primarily imparted through adivasi language, along with regional language Marathi and Hindi. NNNA published books in adivasi dialects, in Devnagari script.

The Jeevanshalas need more volunteers to be part of this initiativeand welcome whoever wants to come and spend time with the children. It would be great encouragement for the students and a lifetime experience for anyone who visits the Jeevanshala set on the banks of Narmada. To support the initiate, you can write to the organizers at


A girl in a happy mood after receiving the certificate for her performance in a play

narrated by-bilal khan

NAPM India