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“At The Age Of 7, All My Dreams Of An Education Shattered”

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

Written by Anjuman Begum:

Child labour is illegal in India. However, this law is not translated into reality yet: lakhs of children continue to be exploited to date. They fall prey to horrific instances, such as being employed as domestic workers by the city dwellers. Such is the reality of Sunita, who’s been through nothing short of a traumatic childhood, and continues to struggle to build a better life for herself.

From School To Bonded Labour

Sunita Orang is the only daughter in her family of five. Being the youngest, she was a pampered child, but the family faced severe financial constraints, which brought its own set of challenges. Despite both her parents working hard as daily wagers in the tea garden, the earnings were hardly enough to provide for basics.

Growing up was a struggle for Sunita. School became a way for her to focus on things other than her struggles and her parents supported her. But then the school days didn’t last for a long time. When she was in class IV, an acquaintance offered to take away Sunita to Guwahati. He told her parents, “You are struggling to sustain a daily wage. Someone in Guwahati is looking for a housemaid. If you agree, I can take your daughter. This way, you will get money to reduce your hardship.

Due to acute financial condition, they were convinced and sent Sunita to Guwahati. “At the age of 7, all my dreams of education shattered,” Sunita recollects.


Pic: Sunita working at a paddy field.

Bonded Life In An Unknown City

Sunita’s employer was wealthy and had a big two-storey concrete building. “I used to start my day early in the morning. Mopping the floors, cleaning utensils, helping with cooking, washing clothes were part of my work“, Sunita narrates her daily routine. Sometimes she would also prepare tiffin for their school going kids. “I would drop the kids to catch their bus to school and bring them back home once they return in the afternoon. My mind would travel with them to the school and I dreamt of going to school as well.

Sunita worked there for three years, all the while dreaming of returning to school. One day, she asked her employer for permission to go home. “I remember it was Diwali festival time and it felt so good to return home“, she recalls. She saw her old friends going to school, and that made up her mind – she managed to convince her mother to let her stay at home and return to school.

Back To School

Sunita started going to school again at the age of 10 years. A school under Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan provided her with the opportunity to study again. Within a few days, she impressed her teachers. When she reached class VIII, financial constraints hit her life again.

She needed a school uniform, shoes, some clothes along with a bag to carry books. Her parents could hardly afford those. Her past experience as a domestic worker provided her with a clue on how to earn money. “I made my mind that if I work as a domestic helper or as a labourer on a wage basis, I can earn some money and procure those materials needed to go to school.

During summer vacation or in other holidays Sunita would work and save enough to continue study for the rest of the year. This proved fruitful, and she reached the 10th standard.

Here she started facing problems yet again, which is very common among the tea garden community. She is the first generation in her family into learning, and there was no one in the family to guide her. By that time, her brothers dropped study and joined the tea garden as daily wagers.

Her cousins supported her with the necessary guidance, and Sunita passed 10th standard successfully in 2016. Financial constraint was a real hurdle, but Sunita would work as a casual labourer to save money. She took admission in Sonali Junior College and passed 12th standard. She wanted to study further but couldn’t manage the high cost of access to education. “I thought whatever I studied so far was beyond our affordability. So I can now stop my education” Sunita decided.

Another Call In Life Amidst Pandemic

Pandemic and lockdown again became a hurdle for Sunita in the tryst with education. Though Sunita officially ended her educational journey and was working as a daily wager, she couldn’t resist further study when she saw girls from her village going for professional courses.

She took admission in Purbanchal Seva Dhatri course, a professional nursing course for 18 months and was attending classes since January 2020. Sunita’s interest was growing in the subject when the pandemic hit the country. Barey after two months of active classes, Sunita’s classes were stopped when the lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020.

Sunita stayed at home and was worried over the uncertain future. She had started working in the paddy fields as a daily wager when the lockdown was relaxed and agricultural activities were allowed. Thought of going back to school is still very much in her mind, and she keeps praying for the pandemic to be over soon.

Sunita’s course requires lots of practical work. Hence it is not possible to learn online. She has a smartphone with WhatsApp installed. But that’s not enough for her. Pandemic should not end her aspirations for a better life in future.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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