The Santoshnagar ZP school is situated in the Roha tehsil of Raigad district. The Waghmare family came to live in this picturesque town towards the end of 2016. The family, comprising the parents, their three daughters, and a son, belonged to the ‘Katkari’ Adivasi community. Several ‘Katkari’ families live in the area, and the Waghmares were soon assimilated. In fact, Kisan Waghmare – the father – hailed from a village in the same Roha tehsil. Soon, the family had settled down in the small hut they had built.
Kisan Waghmare and his wife began working as farm labourers. They are particularly skilled at rice planting and harvesting. The family had lived in the state of Karnataka for nearly a decade, where the couple sold the coal they made from the wood of wild acacia trees. Living close to the forest, as they did, their children had never had any schooling. Besides, they spoke the Katakri language, while the medium of instruction in the schools was Kannada.
A teacher in the Santoshnagar ZP school, Gajanan Jadhav, realised that though this family newly arrived in Roha had two children of school-going age, they had not been enrolled in the local school. He spoke to the school principal, Aparna Kulkarni, about this. She too was dismayed that these children were being deprived of education, despite the country’s Right to Education Act. The two educators decided to pay the Waghmare couple a visit that evening.
Fatigued from their labours as they were, the couple nevertheless welcomed the teachers into their home, and offered them water, but they were clearly bemused by the unexpected visit from strangers in crisply ironed clothes. The teachers introduced themselves, and asked the names and ages of the two older children. The mother estimated that they must be “around 7 to 8 years old”. Their names were Mai and Karan. The two younger girls were playing nearby. When asked why Mai and Karan did not come to school, the parents could not offer any answer, except to say that no one from their family had ever gone to school.
The teachers then explained to the parents how going to school was the children’s right, and that it was the law. They pointed out that the children had already lost out on a couple of years of schooling, and assured the parents that far from their having to spend anything, the children would receive free education and textbooks, as well as mid-day meals. They also explained to the parents about an annual 1000-rupee scholarship to which their children were entitled, under the Golden Jubilee Adivasi Scholarship scheme.
The parents were finally convinced, and agreed to send both Mai and Karan to school. The mother wanted the daughter’s given name, Pooja, to be included in the school records, as Mai was only her pet name. At last, in the third week of December, both Mai and Karan began school. Jadhav ‘Sir’ and Kulkarni ‘Madam’ were happy that their efforts had borne fruit. Both children were admitted under the Right to Education Act, into the 3rd std, in keeping with their ages.
Mai and Karan looked adorable in their new school uniforms. But less than 10 days had passed, when Mai suddenly stopped coming to school. At first Jadhav ‘Sir’, who was also her class teacher, did not take her absence seriously, thinking that it could be a minor illness, or even boredom. But when Mai continued to remain absent, he approached the school principal once again, and they went to meet the family.
They found Pooja, in her now dirty school uniform, playing with her younger sisters. When asked why she did not come to school anymore, she said she really wanted to but her mother would not allow her. Soon, the parents came home, and when the teachers asked them about Pooja’s absence, her mother replied, “I sent her to school since you insisted, but even I have to go out to work. If Mai starts going to school, who will look after the younger children? I cannot sit at home, as we need to earn money to feed the family, and why do girls have to go to school? I am sending my son, am I not?”
The teachers were speechless at first. But then Kulkarni ‘Madam’ came forward and spoke to the mother about the importance of educating the girl child. She tried to explain that girls were in no way inferior to boys, and that if both her older children were to be educated, they could find better jobs as adults, and nobody could easily take advantage of them. She promised to pay for all textbooks, notebooks, stationery, and for Pooja’s uniforms as well as for her school picnics, until she went to the 5th std.
Jadhav ‘Sir’, on the other hand, resolved the issue of care for the younger ones. Though the Santoshnagar school did not have a play school, he asked the mother to send Mai’s small siblings to school, and promised to make sure they were looked after. Finally, Mai’s mother agreed to send her back to school.
Now both Mai and her brother attend school regularly. Mai gets ready and also gets her sisters ready, does her household chores, and gets to school by 10 every morning. Her sisters play near her classroom while she studies. They too are given the mid-day meal, as well as snacks in the evening, along with the other schoolchildren. Often, the little ones have their afternoon nap in school. Jadhav ‘Sir’ and Kulkarni ‘Madam’ have told the Waghmare family about the Education Guarantee Card that ensures that the children will be admitted to a school even if they migrate to another place.
Now Mai has found friends of her own, and is slowly adjusting to school life. Her hunger for knowledge is increasing as she sheds her grown-up demeanour and learns to be a child again.
Blog: Chaya Vartak, District Gender co-ordinator, Raigad
Translation: samata.shiksha team