By Krithika Rao:
Heena, a 10-year old girl with big dreams in her big eyes, studies in a low-income private school in Seelampur, Delhi. It had been a week since she was stopped coming to school. Although all the kids live in the same locality, nobody knew the reason for her absence. So, after a week of continuous absence, I decided to visit her house. Heena lives in Dedh number gali (Street number 1 and a 1/2), a very narrow side lane in the Brahmpuri area of Seelampur, where piled up garbage and bees hovering over them grace the street every 50 meters. The lady who greeted me at the door looked so young and small, with shrunken eyes and a bandaged head. Had it not been for the sari and her covered head with ghungat, I would have mistaken her for any regular college-going girl. With folded hands she said, “Namaste ma’am, main Heena ki mummy.” That day, I stayed and talked with Heena’s mother for nearly 2 hours. It seemed that she never had anyone to talk to about her woes to and today she could let her heart out.
Heena’s mother, Tanvi, got married at the age of 14 and had Heena at 15. Tanvi lost her father when she was 6 to alcohol and drugs. Her mother took care of her but unable to sustain themselves, married Tanvi off to an unemployed person. She is 25 years old today, has 3 children and is a victim of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Tanvi’s husband comes home drunk almost every night and beats her and the kids. 3 nights ago, he tried forcing himself on her in front of the kids, and when she declined and fought back, he beat her so bad that he almost banged her head, and he called her and Heena a whore. She lay unconscious for hours. She says, “Ma’am, is umar mein maine jitna dekha hai or saha hai, utna kabhi kisi aur ko na dekhna pade” (Ma’am, I wish nobody ever has to go through what I have gone through at such a tender age).
“I am 25 with 3 kids and an abusive husband. I am living only for the kids, else I have no wish or a reason to live.”
“Mera sapna? Main dancer banna chahti thi.” (My dream? I wanted to become a dancer).
“Mujhe apne liye koi ummeed nahi hai, bas ab sab kuch in bachon ke liye hi hai” (I don’t have any hope for myself, now I just want to give my kids everything).
Very sadly, it’s the same with Shabia, Fiza, Tanya and many more women in Seelampur. A lot of them never had any education, they are dependent solely upon their drunk husbands and other male members in their family. It is very sad that even after 70 years of Independence when the whole nation is revolutionizing, in many parts of our society women are still subjected to neglect, violence and abuse. They are still supposed to cover their faces and hide themselves behind the purdah(veil) when an elderly person or an outsider comes; their schooling is stopped after 8th grade; they are not allowed to work outside.
Having grown up in a posh community with all the privileges, worked and lived abroad, advocating about how much India has grown and how it’s women have come up in their life and how India is not the land of snake charmers, elephants and women behind purdahs anymore to first-world countries, this came as a hard slap on the face.
I work as a teacher in Seelampur in North-East Delhi, as part of Teach for India, an NGO that works for education equality in low-income communities. During this fellowship, I got to realize how easy our life has always been and how difficult it could get. Now in my second year of the 2 year fellowship, and having taught an amazing bunch of 5th graders in a low income school in Seelampur, I feel that these kids and their community have taught me much more than what I could teach them.
Tanvi, Shabia, Fiza and all the other women in the community hope for a brighter future for their kids. They are willing to go to any length to give their children a good education. Tanvi has enrolled herself for 10th-grade exams through open schooling this year, despite her family’s protests. I, with my colleagues, have started a skill-development training centre in Seelampur for the women to get trained in a skill that would equip them to lead a life of dignity and respect, and that would enable them to sustain themselves and ensure a good future for their children. Being part of the skill development programme will help them earn and save money for their children’s future education. They all have a dream, that one day their kids will achieve their dream.
It feels wonderful when my girls tell me that they will fight for their equality (and they are only 10) when my boys argue with their parents to send their sister to school with them. It makes me believe that there is a hope for these kids, for their parents, for Seelampur and for this country.