I was held back for a moment when the little girl replied to my questions so fluently and boldly. Sitting under the sun, Khushi – a girl of six, while painting her imagination on the paper, was merrily talking to me about her dreams. She was one amongst the participants present at the painting competition organised by an NGO at Vasant Kunj, Delhi.
“My name is Khushi,” a form of answer you would expect from anyone when asked about their identity. But the fact that left me stupefied here was that Khushi was not a school-going kid. A child of her age is expected to be studying in class 1 or 2. The extent of ignorance that I could feel in the air around me was clarifying every bit of confusion running through my mind.
Her family had been staying in the remote, shattered and dusty slum of Vasant Kunj for 35 long years. Hardly anyone from the family has been to a primary school. High school was still a far-off site for them. The children of the families inhabiting the slum were going to a nearby shed which was constructed with tyre, mud and waste bottles and which had a blackboard for a few hours of learning. This effort has been undertaken by the NGO for the past four years. They have encouraged others to send the children to nearby schools too. Taking it up as a social responsibility and a worthy cause, the NGO has been playing their part pretty well. A number of children like Khushi are a part of this. These kids have minds full of dreams and aspirations. But for generations in their families, they have been directionless.
Khushi aspires to be a police officer when she grows up. Being a part of the classroom, she seemed delighted enough to be able to grasp something. When she was painting pictures, I asked her whether she wanted to go to school or not. Khushi did not feel the need to go to school as she felt that she was already learning in the NGO classroom.
When talking to her mother, I got to know that they didn’t own a birth certificate for Khushi. This was a barrier to her being able to go to school. “We would send her to school but we are lacking a birth certificate. Also, the children complain of not being interested in going to school, fear being beaten up and thus, they run off,” says Khushi’s mother. The NGO has taken tremendous efforts to help the children avail Aadhaar and PAN cards.
Wasn’t time, however, running out? A series of questions again flashed in my mind and I couldn’t draw clear-cut conclusions. She may get admitted to school ‘one day’ but wouldn’t she be too old by then? Aren’t her dreams being compromised this way? It’s our fault – you, me, the authorities, her family – because our mentality has kept us from grasping the importance of education.