"None are servants here... We are the children of the earth. The fortunate children of the earth."

And that’s from children singing in a village school. At one level, the irony is palpable. Rural schools are almost never given a fraction of the facilities, funding and opportunities that urban schools receive. Schools that appoint ad hoc teachers at appallingly low salaries. Schools where the instructors are completely unqualified – some states have exempted candidates from the Teachers’ Eligibility Test so they can bring in completely unqualified, underpaid people. Schools that sometimes go without any teachers at all for ages.

Girls singing outside a school
PHOTO • Namita Waikar

Rural schools are usually neglected, yet the children sang with passion and confidence

Yet, they sang with passion and confidence, the children of the primary school in Nandgaon village of Mulshi taluka in Pune district. They believe in those ideals. And they’re singing, on our request, a Marathi poem they’ve learned in school, from their fourth standard Bal Bharati textbook. 

It’s a poem by D. N. Gavankar (1915-1971), poet and photographer, who was one of the members of the Lal Bavta Kala Pathak, or the Red Flag Cultural Squad set up in 1942-44, along with Amar Shaikh and Annabhau Sathe. The three were seen by their contemporaries and later writers as “the bridge between the masses and the Samyukta Maharashtra movement.” (The movement fought for and achieved a separate Marathi-speaking Maharashtra state which came into being on May 1, 1960).

In the 1940s, the songs and poems of these artists were very popular among the textile mill workers and other workers in Mumbai. 

Those words still ring in our ears, long after we’ve left: "We will establish equality, everlasting unity... No one is inferior, none is a servant here."

Watch video: students of Nandgaon's primary school sing a song of hope and equality 

धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं, भाग्यवान
धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं.. 

शेतावरं जाऊया, सांगाती गाऊया 
रानी वनी गाती जशी रानपाखरं 

धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं, भाग्यवान
धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं.. 

मेहनतं जिमनीवरी, केली वरीसभरी 
आज आलं फळं त्याचं डुले शिवर

धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं, भाग्यवान
धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं.. 

शाळु जुंधळा मोती, चमचम
चमकत्याती मोत्यांची सालभरी खाऊ भाकरं 

धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं, भाग्यवान
धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं.. 

स्थापू समानता पोलादी ऐक्यता 
नाही धनी येथ कोणी नाही चाकर 

धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं, भाग्यवान
धरतीची आम्ही लेकरं.. 

We are the children of the earth
The fortunate children of the earth

Let us go to the fields and sing together
Like birds singing in the wild forests

We are the children of the earth
The fortunate children of the earth

Our hard work on the soil through the year
Has borne fruit that today the fields sway with

We are the children of the earth
The fortunate children of the earth

Pearl millet, sorghum, are shining like pearls
We’ll eat bhakri from these pearls all year

We are the children of the earth
The fortunate children of the earth

We will establish equality, everlasting unity
No one is a master, none are servants here

We are the children of the earth
The fortunate children of the earth

Samyukta Shastri

Samyukta Shastri is the Content Coordinator at the People’s Archive of Rural India. She has a bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from the Symbiosis Centre for Media and Communication, Pune, and a master’s degree in English Literature from SNDT Women's University, Mumbai.

Other stories by Samyukta Shastri