Two years ago, nine-year-old Vishal got beaten up real bad by the class bullies at the government school in Lal Kuan in south Delhi. The bullies also tore up some of his school texts and threw away others. After that day, a petrified Vishal just couldn’t muster up enough courage to go back to school.
Worse still, he couldn’t tell his parents — Radhe Shyam and Manju — about the incident. So, he came up with this going-to-school charade.
Every morning, Vishal would ritualistically get ready for school and leave the house. Radhe Shyam, a book binder earning Rs 3,000 per month and Manju a domestic help with a monthly income of Rs 1,000 would lock their 10 ft x10 ft house in Nardan basti and leave for work, little suspecting that their son was loitering in the neighbourhood all day long, when he should have been learning his lessons.
In a couple of months’ time, the inevitable happened. Vishal’s parents came to know about his “little game”, but apart from being angry they could not do much. Vishal pointblank refused to go back to school, and since Radhe Shyam and Manju could ill-afford any other school they accepted their lot.
Cut to April 2012. Vishal, now 11, was spending his day collecting bricks and roaming around the basti, when HT touched his life. As part of the HT education initiative — You Read, They Learn — a social worker from Matri Sudha intervened.
Matri Sudha is a CRY project supported by Hindustan Times. For every HT copy that is sold in Delhi NCR 5 paise goes towards ensuring that children like Vishal go to school and grow up to realise their dreams.
Matri Sudha works closely with the community on generating awareness among slum-dwellers, imparts non-formal education to children who are too young to go to school, and works towards the implementation of the Right to Education Act in Lal Kuan schools.
In other words, social workers from Matri Sudha go from door to door checking if the children of a given area are attending school or not. They also collect feedback from other children who attend the local Matri Sudha centre. Then they go back to those families where children don’t go to schools and attempt to solve the problem.
Nardan basti in Lal Kuan is the home of mostly domestic helps and daily wage earners. The area has no regular water or power supply. The streets are narrow, and the stench from the gutters overwhelms the senses. In this less than desirable scenario, for a lot of children and their parents education is the only way out of this encompassing bleakness.
In Vishal’s case, the social worker had an extensive chat with the boy and his parents.
“Monitor marte the. Bahut dukhta tha. Mazak bhi udaate the. Kitab phaad dete the. Masterji ko bola to unhone kuch nahi kiya. Mujhe bahut dar lagta tha. (The class monitor would beat me up, tear up my books and make fun of me. It really hurt. The class teacher never took action. I was terrified).”
As it turned out, the parents could never make time to visit the school, talk to the teacher or the child and get to the bottom of the problem. And that is where Matri Sudha stepped in.
Through Matri Sudha, HT got the child to attend counselling sessions.
“It was very difficult to remove fear from Vishal’s mind and heart. He was too scared to go back to school. After various sessions, we convinced him that nobody would beat or abuse him again,” said Surender Singh, the project holder.
The NGO staff also talked to the principal and apprised him of Vishal’s situation. It was a matter of weeks before Vishal was once again attending school. “I want to buy a big house when I grow up. I don’t want my mother to work in other people’s houses,” says Vishal, when quizzed about his “dreams”.
As for Radhe Shyam and Manju, they are relieved to get their elder son off the roads of the basti and possibly on the path to a better life. They want to send their younger son, 4-year-old Abhishek, also to school.
“I was wrong in not listening to Vishal earlier. Today, I know he is doing something meaningful when I am away at work. On Sundays, I talk to him about his school and studies. I will be the proudest father if he becomes an educated man,” says Radhe Shyam.
For her part, the softspoken Manju says, “Bachche pad likh jayein to jeevan behtar ho sakta hai hamara bhi (If our children study they as well as we can aspire for a better life).”
HT initiative motivates young Sanya from Jyoti Nagar to become the first member of her family to attend school