As part of the Social Movements subject, I got the opportunity to interview Miss. Jassi Gumman from Delhi. She along with her team have founded the Seeyahi NGO in R.K. Puram, New Delhi. It’s her brilliant story and zeal to educate children all over the world that has helped her persist through the adversities thrown in her path. She is currently running a school in multiple areas in Delhi where close to 150 plus children from the marginalized sections are being educated. She also collaborates with the student committees of IIT Delhi, and IIT Delhi students can be frequently found teaching in her schools.
She has arrived in Delhi after her undergrad and like any other graduate, she was happy to have a salary. Daily commute, office work, and then routine daily chores. She thought that she had fulfilled the necessities to keep herself alive and well. However, her mind was consistently wondering, is this all? Is this all that I will be doing for life? She felt like a “hamster waking up every morning, going back to work, returning to the cave, feeding and going to only to wake up next morning.” Her mind was consistently focused on the fact that she wanted a purpose to live a meaningful life.
On one fine regular day, while returning from office, she saw few kids and their terrible state. Kids were walking through a river (sort of drain which was carrying all the toxic material a city can generate). They were all soaked in mud and were collecting plastic bottles which they hoped to sell and have dinner that night. This sight was heartbreaking for her and became the trigger to what lay ahead in her life.
There, began a battle between mental/emotional feeling – to help those kids vs her brain which was telling her to take an easy way out. However, she did not walk away that day. She waited by the riverside waiting for the kids to come out. She asked them to wash and meet her afterward. She handed them some money as she says that she could come up with only one way to convince those kids to meet her.
After a half-hour, a few highly suspicious kids were there and she could also see parents looking at her from afar. She would describe kids as – “Smile with broken teeth, their cuts, the bruises from trashing, torn cloth, the fissures in their heel, with the heavy smell of the toxic river which was probably ingrained in their flesh”.
It was tough to get them to open up due to their suspicion as they were not really expecting a regular person to come and talk to them. She got to know that they were from Rajasthan and that their parents had come to Delhi in search of employment. However, due to limitations on family earnings, kids were forced to do work. Ranging from rag picking, cleaning glasses at traffic signals, and selling stuff on traffic signals to have two meals a day.
She was surprised to know that some kids were given a strong shot of country-made liquor from parents to numb senses while going into the river. The kids also informed that people without any reason used to beat them up and no authorities would help them. When asked about what they want to do, they said they wanted to go to school. They wanted to learn new things and experience the world outside the flyover.
She wanted to do something for the kids, however, she was afraid to take any long-term responsibility alone. So, she approached her friends with the issue. Her friends told her that it’s not safe for her to go there and teach kids. Her colleagues told her that it is not her responsibility and that the state has many welfare schemes to look after them. Some people went on to say that – “People should not give birth to the children if they can’t afford to feed them and bring them up”.
Realizing that there won’t be any support from the friends and co-workers from the office, she decided to start small. She started teaching those kids under the same flyover they used to stay in. She used to visit the flyover everyday evening to teach those kids for at least an hour. She had to visit the families staying in different flyovers to convince parents to send their kids to the classes she had been taking. Some would agree and some would shut her down and refuse. She enrolled the kids to school and bought them school dresses, bags, and textbooks. She was doing everything she could do and was bearing all expenses alone. She would run out of money every few months and had to arrange from other sources.
After years of efforts from 2015, she is currently teaching as many as 150 children across the slum areas in Delhi. She has established the NGO and through that, she has hired three teachers to teach full-time to kids. Apart from school, kids are also encouraged to take up other activities outside their academics. Few kids are enrolled for sports activities in Delhi’s stadium. Jassi has learned to collaborate with many peoples and many colleges across Delhi help her out in teaching kids. IIT Delhi’s students are specially helping her out in her efforts.