Rajni Kumar – India

Linked with National Bal Bhavan, and with The Springdales Education Society.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

It is told about her: Rajni’s vision is to find ways to make the educational systems more humane, equitable, and relevant to the changing world scenario, using technology to link schools and youth globally.

Mrs. Rajni Kumar, Chairperson, Springdales Education Society, has been honoured an Honorary Doctorate degree by the Middlesex University, London, at Wembley Conference Centre on July 6th 2005. (full text).

She says: “They taught and I learnt. More importantly, through these Punjabi girls and their displaced families, I was brought face-to-face with the harsh realities of life: how lives can be shattered overnight, and how people can find the resilience and the courage to pick up the threads and build their lives anew. I marveled at it. Education was their lifeline for tomorrow. And working together, we forged lifelong friendships that endure even today”.

Rajni Kumar - India rogné redim65p.jpg

Rajni Kumar – India (formerly Nancie Joyce Margaret Jones)

She works for the Springdales School, New Delhi.

Rajni Kumar (formerly, Nancie Joyce Margaret Jones) was born in England on 5 March 1923 to British parents and educated at Tollington Grammar School, London. She came to India with her Indian fiancé to join the freedom struggle, and made the country her home. In 1950, she set up a school for girls displaced by the partition. This work led her to conceptualize an institution that would link the process of education with life itself, and Springdales School was born in 1955. Her many innovative school programs’ incorporating peace and human rights education in the curriculum, literacy projects, the ‘adopt a gran’ project, and many others have altered India’s outlook on education.

Already as an adolescent, she was deeply concerned about the rise of fascism in Europe, colonialism and racial inequality in Asia and Africa, and the immense sufferings engendered by World War II.

When she was 16 years old, she founded the Highgate Youth Club to awake the minds of young people and involve them in the causes she considered important. She also volunteered at the recreational centers for economically-deprived youth in London’s East End.

For her voluntary community work in 1941, she was awarded a full scholarship to read social science and administration at the London School of Economics, where she was greatly influenced by the teachings of Professor Harold J Laski, Marxist thinkers, progressive educators, and rationalists like Bertrand Russell.

She became an active campaigner for peace and freedom, and an activist of the antifascist resistance movement in England. She also joined the India League and the India Relief Committee for the sufferers of the Bengal famine.

In 1946, at the age of 23, she left England and her family to join her fiancé Yudhister Kumar, a co-student at the London School of Economics and Law, in India. In total identification, she began calling herself Rajni and wearing Indian clothes of khadi. (She had met a famous Indian writer in England whose daughter was named Rajni.) When she married Yudhister, she added ‘Kumar’ to her name.

Yudhister, who came from a family of freedom fighters from Punjab, had returned to India to participate in the freedom movement.

During his work, he contracted a virulent form of tuberculosis and was hospitalized. After spending two years in a sanatorium in the Simla Hills, nursing Yudhister back to health, Rajni married him in 1948. Gandhi, who was to bless their interracial marriage, had been shot at four days prior. The day of the marriage was the chautha ceremony for Gandhi, and there was a citywide shutdown.

Rajni made India her home, and has lived and worked there for the past 58 years. Between 1950 and 1955, she set up and ran a Hindi-medium school, under the aegis of the Salwan Educational Trust, for the girls of displaced families from Punjab, traumatized by the Partition. She found that they needed not only education, but also a sense of security and love, and morale-boosting.

Her only son, Madhusudhan, was born in December 1948. He died of a genetic condition when he was four years old, leaving Rajni heartbroken. To deal with her grief, she immersed herself in working for others: as founder-member of the National Federation of Indian Women, she was part of the first delegation of Indian women to attend the World Congress in Copenhagen in 1953. She extended her trip into a six-week tour of the Soviet Union, meeting women who had suffered the ravages of war, and were involved in the process of national reconstruction.

Kiron Jyoti arrived in their home in 1953, giving the couple great joy.

After five years as principal of Salwan Girls School, Rajni decided to start a school of her own that would incorporate her own ideas about education: she was brimming over with fresh and exciting convictions about the real purpose of education: liberating the mind from parochial thinking, touching the hearts of children, linking the journey of education with life itself.

On 1 September 1955, Springdales School started in Rajni’s own home as a small kindergarten with 24 entrants. She ran the school as founder-principal for 32 years. She had the unstinting support of Yudhister, his family, and many like-minded co-workers who had been in the Indian freedom struggle.

Yudhishter, by then a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, died of cancer in 1976. He was only 59. His death left a void in her life, and in the institution they had been building together, but she took this second blow with characteristic fortitude. Through this period, apart from her work at Springdales School and in higher education as decade-long chairperson of Lady Irwin College, she meshed with the world peace movement. She took part in the Global Peace Conferences in Geneva, the World Congress for the Rights of Children in Moscow, and in peace journeys through the then Soviet Union, Hungary, the then Czechoslovakia, and Austria.

As a member of the National Children’s Board headed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, she took up many issues that affected the lives of economically-deprived children, including the abolishing of bonded and child labor.

As vice-president of the National Bal Bhavan, she started programs to bring creative learning experiences to the lives of deprived children, setting up Bal Bhavans in various Indian states. The Bal Bhavan – children’s houses of culture – concept had come from Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The idea was to give children from all societal strata the opportunity to express their latent talents using a wide array of recreational activities: theatre workshops and other cultural activities, science activities, and sports programs. Rajni recalls how thrilled children were at the National Integration Camps, sleeping away from home, mixing with children from different states.

As founder-member and later chairperson of the National Progressive Schools Conference, an association of principals of Independent Schools, Rajni brought about significant changes in the thinking of many principals and teachers.

Since retirement in 1988 at 65 she has been involved in education as chairperson of the Springdales Education Society. She also became the voluntary coordinator of the Delhi Schools Literacy Project, under the National Literacy Mission, inspiring and motivating students and teachers of more than 60 schools to be committed to the eradication of illiteracy. Over the past 16 years, they have swelled the ranks of the literate by 80,000 learners, and are now motivating the neo-literate from 22 slums to continue with their learning-and-earning programs.

In recognition of the important role played by the Africa Club of Springdales – which she set up in 1971 in solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa – the government of South Africa felicitated Rajni this year on International Women’s Day.

Springdales itself has risen in stature through the years, and now has a national reputation for the unique educational experience it gives to its 5,500 students. Community service by students is mandatory; the school has international friendship clubs and linkages; solidarity programs for Cuba, Namibia, Angola, and Palestine; it set up the Africa Club in 1971; it introduced peace and human rights education as a subject integrated in the curriculum; and it was the country’s first school to partner with the deprived children in state-run schools under the ‘twinning program’.

Springdales has also set up vocational programs for urban slum women, and started the “adopt a gran” project with HelpAge India. Rajni has organized marches for communal harmony, to protest against war, to promote literacy, and to work towards a peaceful world for children.

The close-knit Old Springdalians’ Association – with its 1,000 life-members, and more than 10,000 former students living and working all over the world – of which Rajni is the patron, is spreading the Springdalian ethos and its philosophy based on the school motto “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World is One Family).

Rajni’s vision for the future is to find ways to make educational systems more humane, equitable, and relevant to the changing global scenario, using technology to link schools and youth transnationally, and incorporate into the curricula of all schools, education for peace, communal harmony, and international understanding, in which people, regardless of race, color, creed, caste, or sex live together as concerned members of the human family.

Rajni’s strong opposition to communalism and the communalization of politics – she has spoken out strongly against communal politics, the saffronization of education, distorted textbook materials, and rightwing ideologies – has won her critics, if not outright enemies. At times, the open conflict with those in power has made her personal and professional life difficult.

In the course of things, there have been verbal threats, obstacles to her work, false accusations, and serial harassment by corrupt politicians and unscrupulous bureaucrats.

Today, at 81, Rajni lives at the school farm at Chhattarpur, near Delhi, surrounded by her foremost loves: her daughter and two grandchildren, and nature. (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).

Her vision for the future is to find ways to make the educational systems more humane, equitable and relevant to the changing world scenario, using technology for linking schools and youth globally. (full text).

Her School, it all started in Delhi, at East Patel Nagar on September 1st, 1955, when a small nursery and kindergarten was started in the home of Mrs Rajni Kumar and her husband the late Mr Yudister Kumar, Barrister at Law and Senior
advocate of the Supreme Court of India. Many years prior to this, while Mrs Rajni Kumar was a student at the London School of Economics, she had been attracted by the progressive education movement in Britain particularly Beaconsfield founded by Bertrand Russell, Badley’s co-educational school Bedales, and A. S. Neill’s Summerhill. So, when planning to open her own school in Delhi, she struck on the name ‘ Springdales’, symbolic of the freshness of Spring and inspired by the progressiveness of Bedales. The school was born soon after India attained her independence. It was in the context of Nehruvian politics, International peace and brotherhood, and the Non-aligned movement that Springdales took shape and burst upon the educational scenario with vibrancy and freshness, dovetailing much of the ethos and culture of the new India, into its education programmes and philosophy Springdales attracted the local community from the very start and it grew rapidly. In 1959 it obtained recognition from the Educational Authorities of the state and from that date onwards was affiliated to the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination. Later it sought affiliation from the Central Board of Secondary Education. Up to 1979 it prepared its students for both the Indian School Certificate Examination and the Higher Secondary Examination of the Central Board of Secondary Education. Since 1979 it prepares students for the All India Secondary Examination of the Central Board of Secondary Education at the end of Standard X and for the All India Senior Secondary Examination at the end of Std XII. (full text).

Read: Freedom Lover extraordinaire.

Read this text in Hindi.

Her book: School, Society, Nation, a Popular Essays In Education, by Rajni Kumar, Anil Sethi, Shalini Sikka.

links:

Springdale Schools on wikipedia;

Bakhshi’s Springdales;
Old Springdalians;

Vedams Books;

Childrens books in Hindi;

The Times of India.

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