P. D. Chitlangia – As I Knew Him


Amar Nath Maheshwari





As I am writing my tribute to Shri P. D. Chitlangia, who was initially my Purshottam Chachaji and subsequently Chachaji, my last conversation with him vividly flashes before me. He told me with happiness, “Amar Nath, after undergoing my last course of chemotherapy and treatment by Kaviraj of Patna I have fully come out of my colon cancer. I have regained my normal weight and hair loss has been fully reversed. I now can live my normal life.”  He expressed his anguish at the discontinuance of the grant-in-aid for the Friends of Tribals Society (FTS) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). A week later I went to the US. Therefore, on 10th June  2005 when I received email informing me his death I felt cheated by fate and even today my mind refuses to accept that I will not hear his loving voice and will not see his smiling face.


Another picture that comes to my mind was his sartorial transformation from that of an Englishman to that of indigenous paijama-kurta and the Jai Shri Ram salutation. He did concede that though he had discarded his imported clothes he continued to use imported briefs and shoes.


My contact with him became close when he contacted me to draft a theme paper on non-formal primary education based on the work of the FTS, of which he was the president, for presentation at the All India Conference of the State Education Ministers scheduled to be held at the Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on 22nd October 1998. He sent me reports and documents on the work carried out by the FTS on education of the tribal children. He felt concerned at disproportionately large apportioning by the State of limited funds with it for the higher education sector, especially when the target of achieving universal elementary education had not been achieved in spite of the constitutional commitment made 50 years ago. He felt that continuation with the costly formal system of schooling based on the colonial model of elementary schools introduced in India by the British, reluctance of teachers to work in rural areas, and following curriculum not relevant to the life of community from which the children came to school were the main stumbling blocks to universal elementary education. His principal concern was education of tribal children, as teachers appointed by the state were reluctant to work in tribal habitations because of remoteness and unfamiliar living conditions. He explained to me with supportive research findings effectiveness of the Ekal Vidyalaya system of education, which was based on appointing an educated youth from the community as the teacher for its children. The FTS system of education was participative with the tribal community as they provided place for running their school and also identified persons who at least had studied up to class 10 and were interested in teaching. The induction training and periodic inservice training of teachers, development of appropriate teaching-learning material and funds for running the village school were the responsibility of the FTS.  In the FTS schools in addition to teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic the school time was spent on physical education and imparting of Hindu values. Funds for running the FTS schools were raised from donations from within the country and abroad. I was convinced of the effectiveness of the FTS experiment and therefore readily agreed to draft the paper for the MHRD Conference.


  The paper for presentation in the Conference of the State Education Ministers was finalised in consultation with other experts associated with the FTS and with some educationists from the formal system whom I knew. The paper was worth sharing with the state education ministers as it described an alternative model of school education in remote habitations and was not a Trojan horse for saffronisation of education in a secular country. I had some misgivings when Chitlangiaji shared with me that a prominent MP from West Bengal on his flight from Kolkata to New Delhi had sarcastically made a remark, “Chitlangiaji, aap businessman se kab se educationist bangaya.”  Chitlangiaji was not allowed to present his paper at the Conference. He was advised not to enter the venue of the State Education Ministers as some of the Education Ministers were vehemently opposed to his participation in that elite meeting of the ‘educationists’. Pandemonium broke out in that ill fated meeting even before the scheduled agenda of the conference could be taken up. Singing of saraswati vandana as an invocation for the success of the conference was considered as a belligerent act of hindutava by the ruling BJP alliance government in a secular country. Newspapers and magazines throughout the country were outraged by the act of audacity of then Minister for Human Resource Development in having invited a so-called uneducated businessman with hindutava leanings to address the conference of the education ministers. As a fall out of this incident Chitlangiaji became a well known figure in the country. His picture made cover page of some of the national magazines.


However, there were some sane voices as well in the media. I quote from the article of M. V. Kamath appeared in the Organiser of 22nd November 1998. “Most shocking is the decision of some of the State education ministers who assembled in Delhi at a Government-sponsored conference not to entertain a paper on education policy allegedly submitted by an RSS sympathiser, one Shri P.D. Chitlangia. It betrays a fear of ideas that speaks poorly of the education ministers. But let us presume that Shri Chitlangia is a hard core RSS man. Surely even an RSS man is entitled to be heard by educationists? Are our State ministers so frightened of ideas and is their secularism so fragile that a mere study paper sends them into apoplexy?  What intellectual arrogance is it to insist that only secularists have the right to lay down the law?


A few months after the above mentioned incident Chitlangiaji invited me to Ranchi to join him on a vanyatra for seeing myself the functioning ekal vidyalayas. I wrote an account of that visit in the form of a travelogue. I reproduce some excerpts from it as they reveal the sincerity of Chitlangiaji to his work of the FTS.


“…Starting from 1991 the FTS has started more than 1100 one - teacher schools in Bihar. I came to know of this novel system of non-formal education from Shri P. D. Chitlangia, who is the President of the FTS. To me from its description the FTS model appeared similar to the gurukul system. I saw in it a glimmer of hope. I was keen to observe the FTS experiment by visiting their one - teacher schools and find what children are able to learn, meet the parents and obtain first-hand feedback on the relevance of the FTS school for their children…

….They (children) invoked Om three times and sang the Saraswathi Vandana. Children were alert and could recite stories they had learnt from their teacher. What the teacher was able to achieve in a short period of one month was impressive. Shri Chitlangia expressed interest in meeting the father of Karmu Mehati, the teacher of the school. Shri Chitlangia paid obeisance to the father of the teacher by taking the dust off his feet with his hands. The father was deeply moved by this gesture especially when Shri Chitlangia expressed his appreciation to him for having brought up such a fine son. This incident made it clear to me the difference between the impersonal approach of the State toward its schools and its teachers and those run by persons like Shri Chitlangia, whose actions are driven by the cause they believe in and their commitment to it….”


Chitlangiaji was not only a successful businessman but also a leader of the plywood industry in India. He was associated with leading national institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, as a member of their Board of Governors. In spite of his societal and state recognitions he would point out to even persons whom he did not know well that he was neither a good student nor a scholar but had come up in life by dint of his hard work and entrepreneurship.


I conclude my tribute to Chitlangiaji, my Chachaji, by sharing one other aspect of his life which has left imprint on me. He once mentioned to me that initially he felt appalled at the thought of asking persons to donate Rs. 10,000 or its equivalent amount in foreign currency for running a FTS school for a year. But he overcame his inhibitions as he realised that the cause for which he was asking donations was worthy of support and he, therefore, readily accepted a “no” without negative feelings.


In writing this tribute to Shri Chitlangiaji I have focussed on aspects of his multifaceted personality I am familiar with. I expect that other contributions to the Memoriam Book will bring out fully the life of this exceptional person who had the humility of touching feet in public of a tribal man for raising a worthy son.