Monica’s parents had her future sorted out for her. My mother found me a job right after I finished school,” said the 17-year-old from Saraswati camp, a slum colony of RK Puram in South Delhi.
“She wanted me to work as a house maid.” But her conviction helped turn things around. Monica, who goes by her first name, is now a student of Aurobindo College (Evening) studying Hindi (Honours). She wants to be a journalist.
This year, 17 colleges affiliated to Delhi University (DU) have over 100 students from some of the most impoverished slums with similar stories to tell. These students have all overcome social and financial constraints and secured a place in the country’s best university with the assistance of Asha; an NGO working in nearly 50 slum colonies in the Capital.
What’s even more encouraging is that over 40 per cent of those who have got admission are girls. Monica is among them.
“The girl child in such areas is always discriminated against. It has taken us a lot time and effort to counsel the parents to convince them to send their daughters to college,” said Kiran Martin, Padma Shri awardee and Director of Asha.
Sample this. Rupa (who also goes by her first name) from Ambedkar Camp of RK Puram scored 89 per cent in her Class XII Board examination.
In spite of having secured admission in a coveted institution like Miranda House, her father did not allow her to join the college.
“They did not send her to Miranda or Kamla Nehru and agreed to Maitreyi because it is closer to their slum. Even though their decision was disappointing, I am happy they at least agreed to let her pursue higher studies,” said Martin.
The initiative to provide opportunity to pursue higher education was undertaken by the NGO last year. In the first year, that is 2008, they were able to send 29 children to DU.
This year's number is an achievement of sorts and probably the largest organised effort of its kind in the Capital. It all started with identification of capable youngsters in Class XI and XII and was followed by counseling. The youngsters were helped in filling up forms and choosing the right course.
They also got advice on career options and their college fee was funding partially or completely. Having braved parental opposition, these students are now trailblazers in their own right.
“I am first in my family to have joined college. Everyone had either discontinued education or pursued it through correspondence,” said an elated Muzahir Khan (19), who has secured admission in Political Science (Hon) at Deshbandhu College (Evening).
From: Saraswati Camp slum colony, RK Puram
Class XII Board: CBSE, 50 per cent
Secured a seat in: Hindi (Hons) at Aurobindo College (Evening)
Monica starts her day at 5 o’clock every morning to ensure that she finds enough time to study after doing her household chores. The last couple of months for her has been even more stressful as her parents were not in favour of letting her pursue higher education.
“My mother even found me a job of a domestic help,” she said. It’s only when her father, who works as a labourer, relented that Monica applied to colleges in DU. She got through Aurobindo College and hopes to become a journalist. “I am the only girl in my class,” she smiles.
Mahesh Sharma, 19
From: Ravidas Camp Camp slum colony, RK Puram
Class XII Board: CBSE, 70 per cent
Secured a seat in: Geography (Honours) at Bhagat Singh College
Sharma's parents supported his idea of joining college, but he wasn't sure that it would be enough to achieve his academic dream.
“My father is a motor mechanic and earns about Rs. 4,000 every month. This is not enough to support my college education. So, just moral support is not sufficient to get a seat in a college,” he said. With ASHA promising to take care of the college fee, Sharma applied to DU and got through the course of his choice. “With financial constraints not holding me back, I'll do all I can to make my father proud,” he said.
Shashi Arya, 18
From: Azad Camp slum colony, Mohammadpur (South Delhi)
Class XII Board: CBSE, 65 per cent
Secured a seat in: B.A. Programme at Maitreyi College
Arya did not give in despite stiff opposition from parents. When her father, a car driver, refused to fund her school education after Class IX, she did it herself by tutoring children. And last month, with her conviction and support from ASHA volunteers, she achieved the unimaginable.
Kumar secured admission in Maitreyi College, one DU’s colleges. “I am the first girl in my family to get enrolled in a college. My father wanted me to pursue higher education through correspondence so that I could work. I couldn’t have defied him without my mother’s support,” she said.
Muzahir Khan, 19
From: Hanuman Camp slum colony, RK Puram (South Delhi)
Class XII Board: CBSE, 57 per cent
Secured a seat in: Pol Sc (Hons) at Deshbandhu College (Evening)
Khan has become a role model for the youngsters in his slum ever since he secured admission in a Delhi University college. “Everyone in my colony usually enrolls in open school for graduation. I’ve seen a change their mind set after they saw me breaking away from the trend,” he said.
A student of Deshbandhu College, Khan wants to prepare for the IAS examination after completing his graduation.
“May be, I am being too ambitious, but this is what I want for myself,” he says.
Krishna Kumar, 18
From: Savda Gevra slum colony, Ghevra (North Delhi)
Class XII Board: National Board Examination, 57 per cent
Secured a seat in: BSc Chemistry at Atma Ram College, DU
Kumar suffered several setbacks — demolition of his slum colony (Thokar No. 8) two months before the Class X Board examination in 2006, financial constraints and family pressure — in the last two years of his schooling. But his motivation helped overcome all odds. Kumar did part-time jobs along with school to help the family.
A bright science student, he is now looking forward to pursuing a degree in Chemistry from DU. He travels for ninety minutes and changes three buses to get to college.