India is shining! Of course it is but only for those living in the multi storied apartments in Mumbai or who shop in the biggest of malls of Gurgaon. Yes, we are moving towards faster means of communication, latest mobile and web technologies, imported cars, watches and everything but coming out of the metro circle and one would find a very big contrast. And a similar contrast striked me when I visited a sleepy village called Mahe Singhia and the palces around in my own district a few of days ago.
Getting to Mahe itself was a big achievement as the buses from the nearest town Rosera take almost 70-80 minutes to cover a distance of about 17-18 kilometres on a highly bumpy road. I had the real feel of true India in the bus itself which was overcrowded with almost two and half times its actual capacity. And one could see a large number of people occupying seats on the roof of the bus too. And the conductor jumped through the window to collect the money. And all I could remember was the opening scene from the movie Peepli [Live] where the character Natha vomits out of suffocation in an overcrowded auto.
However, after sitting in such a condition for about an hour, I reached a place called Dudhwara from where I was picked up on a motorcycle to tour the villages. And it was when an interesting journey into the village life started.
One of the villages I visited was Dengrahi in Singhia village panchayat area. Located on the banks of Baghmati, the village gets flooded every year during the monsoons. Away from the nearest railway station Nayanagar by at least 10 km and inhabited by the people comprising of both forward and backward castes, the village still holds on to a rigid caste structure as far as education is concerned. The students of the village are ill treated not only by the forward caste students who come to the school but also by the teachers who are teaching. The Dalit students are beaten up by the Brahmin boys if they attend the school.
Here, the help and support from Asha comes as a real boon for the poor backward children. Managed by the Asha volunteer Mr Manoj Sahu along with three other teaches, the organization is trying its level best to bring lower caste children to the schools. They also run a center in the village where they impart education to these children and have taken several steps to bring them to school including counselling for parents and coordinating with the local Aanganbadi Kendra.
Despite these continuous efforts, the problems are never ending. The parents are unwilling to send the children to school after the age of 10-12 as they don’t see a benefit in formal studies. Even after studying up to a certain standard, there is no guarantee of a decent work other than what they are doing and hence, children are then sent to work in farms, brick factories and even to other states so that they can support the family income.
“But I guess, their fathers must be getting good enough amount for working as labours in farms or any other places. So, why do they send the children to work?” I asked Manoj ji. And what he replied showed one of the saddest scenes of rural life in the state and the country as a whole. “They do earn good amount, in fact very good amount which is complemented if the mother is earning too but generally half of the money is gone in liquors which leads to financial problems.” And at times, the local country-made liquors even kill a person in thirties and the child has to go to work in order to support the family.
Moreover, this habit of tobacco and liquor is again infused in the children as well. I met some children in Gonwara (another village where Asha is working) who used to collect cigarette butts and used to smoke them. Some even stole money here and there for buying bidis or ganja. Despite all this, many children knew how to use mobile phones and navigate around the mobile softwares. Strange, ain’t it?
In Gonwara, I met the mothers of some children who could understood the importance of education for children (Thanks to the efforts put in by the Asha volunteers ) but were helpless because there is only one government run school in the radius of 2-3 kms and that too is dominated by the forward caste teachers and children. The only hope for them lies in their Manoj Sir (the Asha volunteer) to open up an Asha center soon for them.
On one hand, we get tired of browsing through the designer shirts, t shirts, sweat shirts, jeans and other clothes to get one of our choice, the children in these villages put on whatever they get, and at times are happy wearing the dirtiest of clothes. One would think them to be rustic and uncultured (as I thought while sitting in the bus in the morning and frowning at the villagers), but would come to know their real conditions only after spending some time with them.
However, a lot is being done by Asha Parivaar and its volunteers so that these children learn to remain clean and look good but a lot still remains to be done. Hope Asha Parivaar continues to burn the light of hope!!