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This Night School Is ‘Driving’ India Towards Literacy. Literally!

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Dhruv Jha came to the city at the young age of 12 as a migrant worker, forced into child labour due to his circumstances. He is 40 now and is working on passing his 12th-grade exams from the National Institute Of Open Schooling.

He tells me, “I was not lucky like other children of my age to get schooling. One day, I was told by a night school volunteer that I could attend evening school at the Innovation Night School. Here I could study while also working.”

Dhruv Jha’s story, as well as his wife who is pursuing her class 8th from night school, is similar to many other children and adults who are not able to live their childhood and pursue formal education.

Forced to work as child labour due to their circumstances and the inequality of resources that plagues India. Night schools have provided an alternative to these students.

One such night school is the Innovation Mobile Night School, which as the name suggests, brings the night school to the students instead of them having to travel from their home or after work.

Image Credit: Sandeep Rajput/ AICAPD. Class in progress at the Innovation Mobile Night School.

Sandeep Rajput, the founder of All India Citizen’s Alliance Of Progress And Development (AICAPD) NGO, and the Innovation Night and Mobile Schools explains the night school he is a part of. “We are active in 10 areas throughout Gurgaon, Noida, And Uttar Pradesh. Instead of a traditional night school, we operate a mobile night school,” he tells me.

The Innovation Mobile Night School has converted a bus to hold 52 students with desks and chairs. Sandeep tells me that to date, 5000 students have been taught in these schools.

Reaching out to prospective students and convincing their parents can be very challenging. Sandeep Rajput says, “Teaching underprivileged children is very challenging as most of them have never attended school or were forced to drop out. It takes time to convince them and their parents. Most of them say, ‘Sir, ab padhkar kya karenge, hame to majdoori he karni hai (Sir, what will we do by studying? We have to do labor only)’ but this can be changed.

I found many such children who were not interested to study but they are doing really well after attending night school. Many children I found are very quick learners, they just need support. They can do wonders if they are educated.”

Sandeep’s mobile night schools, their volunteers, and teachers conduct surveys in slums to find students in need of night school, and then bring the converted bus to the students, making it easier for them to study. These schools teach up to class 8th and give further assistance in passing 12th from the NIOS system.

Image Credit: AICAPD.

The History Of Night Schools In India

India’s first night school was set up in 1885 by social reformer and feminist Jyotiba Phule in Maharasthra. Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule were anti-caste reformers who started schools for Dalits, laborers, and women. More than 100 years later, Night schools are still hugely prominent in Mumbai, which is a hub for immigrants looking for a better future.

These schools are meant to give adults and students whose chances of education were taken away from the exploitative inequalities of the Indian system a second chance for formal and certified education. What is disheartening is that they are slowly fading away due to government apathy.

In a report by DNA India, 4 such schools in Mumbai did not have more than 3 teachers, lacked benches and chairs, and did not have adequate government funding. Emblematic of a larger problem in India, the apathy towards these night schools is symptomatic of how the working class and the poor are pushed out of education and a path to a better future.

Linking Government Policies With Education For The Marginalised

As of the 2011 Census, there are 10.1 million working children in India between the ages of 5 to 14. As the pandemic hit India, many children have been forced to fend for their families due to their parents succumbing to the virus or losing their livelihood. One shudders to think what the next census will tell us about the state of working children in India.

In this scenario, it is important to look at how education will reach the marginalized. While Night schools like the AICAPD are doing commendable work, the entire education system needs reform to reach the majority of underprivileged children. The poor and marginalized communities already suffer from a lack of access to education. The girl child in India cannot access education in a nation that is as fundamentally patriarchal as India.

The National Education Policy has formalized dropping out in a sense, both in school and higher education. Allowing students to leave school at class 10 to pursue vocational studies, and making the 4 Year Undergraduate Program where students have the option to leave after every year of college has simply wrapped a bow on dropping out. It will be underprivileged students who will have to make these choices due to the circumstances they have to contend with.

The 2021 budget saw a marginal decrease in pre-matric scholarship schemes for marginalized students or no increase at all. The budget for scholarship schemes for minority communities has also decreased. The budget for the post-matric scholarship for Other Backward Castes has been reduced by Rs 115 crore.

Night Schools can serve as a viable alternative for many students if the government aided these efforts. As scholarships are cut, fees are hiked, and our educational institutions become more and more exclusive.

On International Literacy Day, it is important to remember that education is a right for all, not just a commodity for the privileged.

Feature Image Credit: AICAPD

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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