Story of Tulasi Munda – Adivasi Warrior Princess who empowered her people with education

Tulasi Munda

Coming from a humble background, dreamed big. Not just for her but for here entire adivasi community. Being a self-made educationalist and a social activist, Tulasi Munda possessed strong views in education.
Even though it might be raining awards and accolades today her’s was an inspiring story of struggles, tears, effort, patience, hard work and dedication.

Video: Tulasi Munda Story

Tulasi Munda was born on July 15, 1947, in Kainshi, Keonjhar Odisha, formerly Orissa in India. In the early years of her life, she began exhibiting her freedom of expression and her eccentric way of thinking. She grew up in an environment where people have different beliefs, and her notions of freedom had served as wake up call to her fellow tribes men.

While children at her age usually played, and her brothers and sisters went to work Tulasi Munda planned to study and wanted to learn things especially foreign languages like Hindi and English. This inspite of her being home and help her windowed mother with housework.

Her desire to study was futile since there was no school in their village called Painsi. So, she had no choice but to live with her sister in Serenda, a small town that was 65 kilometers away from their village. During her stay, she earned 2 Rs a week by cutting stones and sifting iron from garbage materials. Although it was difficult, she taught herself the alphabets whenever she could. In 1961, her passion and eagerness to learn things have became a way for her to met social workers like Roma Devi, Nirmala Deshpande and Malti Chaudhury. She joined these women and helped in their journey educating women in several parts of the country. She had also participated in village forays.

In 1964, she went back to Serenda and her mission was clear. As a victim of illiteracy, she took upon herself to educate adivasi children especially young girls. She had seen the potential of education as powerful tool that will free her people from the darkness of ignorance and poverty. She started a small school under a Mahua tree.

In the beginning, Tulasi Munda found difficulties in convincing people about the things needed for education. From a school under a Mahua tree, she started night school in the village called Mukhiya. She started with the basics – alphabets, numbers and minor English words. From a few students, she convinced mine workers to leave their children in her care during daytime. She started selling Murri (puffed rice) and vegetables as part of the fundraising for the school needs.

Tulasi’s teaching years continued until volunteers came and started providing her with food and shelter. Donations also began coming until villagers helped together to build their own school. To date, the school has 2 concrete buildings, 354 students and 81 children with hostel facilities. As additional to the school funds, Tulasi charges 200 Rs per month but only for those who can afford to pay for the hostel.

Tulasi Munda School
Image: Tulasi Munda at her school

In 2001, the Government of India recognized Tulasi’s hard work and dedication and presented her Padma Shri Award for spreading literacy in the country. And in 2011, Tulasi Munda won Odisha Living Legend Award for Excellence in Social Service. Truly, Tulasi’s heroism served as inspiration to many especially to educators around the world. According to her, if you really want to change the society, you have to be selfless.