Mirroring change: Her late start notwithstanding, little Uma (in the mirror) is a keen learner. (Raj K Raj/HT photo)
Behind the green and blue doors of the houses of Nardan Basti — a notified slum in Lal Kuan, South Delhi — lie a grey reality.
Unlike more privileged children of her age, 10-year-old Uma does not wake up to a fully laid out breakfast and neatly ironed school uniform. Instead, her daily routine goes somewhat like this: Wake up at 7. Help mother cook the morning meal. Feed four younger brothers. Help mother wash, clean and cook again. Manage younger siblings. Help mother cook…
Uma might be the third of seven siblings, but with her two elder sisters married and gone for the last four years and her mother Jayanti’s hearing impairment making it difficult for her to communicate, a lot of responsibility has shifted on to this little girl.
Uma's father, Vikram Singh Thapa, who runs a nearby dhaba, leaves home in the wee hours of the morning, long before the children have woken up, and returns late at night, long after they have fallen asleep.
"Itna time hi nahi hota ki bachchon ke sath baithke baat karun. School mein admission karaana to durr ki baat hai (I have never had enough to spend with my children, forget take time out to get them enrolled in a school)," says Vikram.
And had it not been for the intervention of Matri Sudha four months ago, the lives of Uma and her siblings would have continued in the same way.
Matri Sudha, a CRY project supported by Hindustan Times, works closely with the community creating awareness about the importance of education. It also runs a centre in the basti where children are given basic education so that they can get admission in schools.
Even with Matri Sudha stepping in, it was not easy convincing Uma's parents to let their child attend the education centre.
Most parents in Nardan Basti preferred having their children stay back at home and help with the household chores while they go out to earn a living, and Vikram and Jayanti were no exception.
For the last two months, Uma has been attending the local education centre and only last month she was enrolled in Class 2 of the nearby MCD school.
"Wo school jayegi to ghar ka kaam kaise hoga (How will I get so much of work done if she goes to school)?" stuttered Jayanti, when asked why Uma wasn't sent to school any earlier.
"We had to have various discussions with Uma's parents before they finally relented. It took us a while to make them understand that sending Uma to school would open up opportunities for a better life," said Surender Singh, project incharge.
In fact, the social workers assured Jayanti that "lesson time" would take up only a couple of hours after which she would be free to help her with the house work.
But the hurdles were far from over.
When Matri Sudha contacted the MCD school for Uma's admission they asked for a birth certificate. Since Vikram and Jayanti had none, the school refused admission.
"The school authorities had not heard of the Right to Education Act, which clearly states that a child cannot be denied admission on any grounds. It was only after the repeated intervention of Matri Sudha staff that the school authorities gave in," said Singh.
Today, Uma is all set to go to school. "Thodi padai mein slow hai. Der se samajh aata hai isko (She is a slow learner. She takes time to grasp a subject)," says Uma's father.
But clearly her late start has not dampened her spirits. Ask her what she wants to be and she chirps, "Jab main khoob saari padai kar lungi to madam banungi. Bahut saare bachchon ko padaungi (When I grow up I will become a teacher and teach an entire class)."
And she is already at it. After returning from school, she helps her mother and then spends time teaching her younger siblings.
Jayanti too seems to have come around. "Humne galti ki jo Uma ke bade behenon ko school nahi bheja. Par ab bhi der nahi hui hai. Hamaare bachche ek din humein is kothri se zaroor bahar nikaalenge (We were wrong not to send Uma's elder sisters to school. But it is still not too late. Our children will take us out of this hut one day)."