By Dibyajyoti Gogoi:
He was repeatedly staring at me. He may have been thinking,“who is this stranger wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans, holding a big mobile phone, carrying a school bag like ours?” He was thinking something which I couldn’t decipher. I asked his name,“Tumhara naam kya hai?” He replied in a low tone,“Mera naam Ishwar hai.” He was shivering and visibly frightened but he was exceptional. His eyes spoke a million words which his mouth couldn’t. His face was radiant, ready to outshine all the hardships in life, to overcome all the challenges and march towards success. The innocent face tried to convey all the suppressed feelings he had never spoken of. He was silent and there seemed to be an unusual pain in his dark eyes, maybe because he was aware of the difficult path he was going to tread.
This photograph was taken in the small non-formal education centre of a small Tribal village known as Sarupal in Rajasthan. These are children who walk a mile from home with an empty stomach to reach the centre. They don’t know the pain of tiredness, the pain of hunger. All they know is that this jungle is their home and they have to live here until death. Don’t you think that they do not have any desire or dream to achieve in their lives! But they are hopeless and aimless as they do not know what is happening outside their world. Climbing the mountains daily, with a torn bag, having a couple of books and copies, a bag devoid of a water bottle or a tiffin box, they start their journey every day and go to school to get education. Because they also know that a good education can overshadow the gloominess in their lives.
Sarupal is considered a hilly terrain. It is quite green which is the result of the necessary measures taken by Seva Mandir. The density of the population is very low. In terms of distance, there are huge gaps in between hamlets. We can find hamlets 2-3 kilometres (or more than that) apart. There is no primary health centre (PHC) for the village. People need to carry the patients with the help of jhula made of bamboos. They need to climb the mountains, then travel long miles to reach PHC, and then too, it depends on the patient’s luck if he or she will get the required nursing on time. So instead of crossing all this hurdle, they prefer staying back and dying at home. They anyway need to come a long way towards the city for their medical treatment. There is no electricity which means the villages have been in complete darkness forever.
I was sitting at one of the teachers’ houses in the village. I was astonished to see how efficiently women utilise water. They know the real value of water. I saw them wash a dozen of plates and glasses with just one mug of water and that too very neatly. “There is no water facility in the village”, one of the women said. They need to climb mountains daily to fetch water from borewell which is also not pure. In summer they face more trouble finding water. Because of the acute shortage of water, they don’t like using toilet facilities at home, instead, go to the field for open defecation which reduces the burden of saving extra water for the toilets. So the toilets that have been offered by the Seva Mandir remain unused.
Kids cannot go and earn for their family. Hence, the family remains happy to send them to school instead of holding them back at home for the whole day. But when the same child becomes capable of earning, the family forces him to migrate to the city to earn money. In the case of a girl, the family either gets her married off or else keeps them at home for the daily household work. So if children would get their due education back in school, it may help them to reduce poverty if not remove it.
It gives me immense pleasure to see these children smile or dance along with me. It is something I cannot measure. This is my journey, my journey to make these children smile. The smile which no one can steal from them…