Wonder what mr p. is thinking as he climbs the steps to a temple he decided to visit on his monthly day out.
This is the same kid who should not have been around had all things remained as they were in the life he was born to live. So what is it that altered his life? A simple question with a multitude of answers starting with the now jaded and tired karma. From a boiling pan to a boarding school has been a quantum B&B leap.
Everywhere around us with fashionable and compulsive regularity people talk about the need to change things, build a better tomorrow, save children, impart education. The list goes on ad nauseam and often stops there: a string of words that often end with a cynical shrug at the numbers.
And yet if even an infinitesimal percentage of these well meaning should make the effort to translate their words into action, the change would be huge. What one should understand is that even one life saved or changed or even touched carries within it a ripple effect no one can stop.
That has been our philosophy all along and I can say that our success has been far greater than expected and heartwarming. The problems encountered have strangely and unfortunately come from the very people who master the art of juggling words and expounding on the need to change things. They have the power to do so, and it would not take them much. All we ask them to do is to dip in their pocket and give us one coin each day, but we have learnt that the coin in question is very elusive.
One of the stumbling blocks of organisations trying to work at the grassroots has been sustainability, which translates into the act of finding that elusive coin. Somehow between the thought and action lie a host of obstacles that can all be bundled into one word: mistrust. I do agree that present NGO sector is replete with dubious organisations, but among those lie some who do reach out and transform lives.
The reason why we thought of seeking a-rupee-a-day donors was based on the prevailing scenario in the hope that people would agree to set that mistrust aside as the amount sought was almost invisible. We still hope to be able to do it but at the same time we are aware that the ultimate power of change lies within the beneficiary group and that is and has been our ultimate goalpost, or to say it in other words the high road.
One has to however realise that this will take time and were we not to survive that the whole exercise would come to naught.
We will not give up, but this i a road we cannot walk alone, i hope someone is hearing?
Look at this picture, at first glance it may seem to be just two people and a child posing in front of the Birla temple in Delhi, India’s capital city, nothing to write home about.
Look again and let me tell you the incredible bonds that underlie this picture. In normal circumstances these three should not be posing together. In our carefully crafted society replete with labels, and hermetic boxes the three belong to worlds that should never meet, let alone bond!
A on the right of your screen is an IIT engineer with a job in a multinational who should have been spending Sunday with his pals at some multiplex or mall. The man on the left is R, barely literate who drives a three wheeler and belongs to some backward and boorish village in the state of Bihar, and the kid, well is labels are confused, his mother a recovering drunk and his ancestry not quite defined. You may wonder what they are doing, and why they are looking happy and content. Some cynical mind may even venture to say that this is part of some marginal film script?
Well that is far from the truth. Amit , Radhey and popples spent their Sunday together, and had a ball. They took a metro ride, visited the temple had a great lunch, all part of Utpals monthly day out from his boarding school.
This is the India pwhy is trying to create, even if it goes down in recorded history as snapshots like this one. An India were bonds are made out of love and mutual respect. In this equation it is difficult to define who has given more, the child to the two adults of vice versa. Radhey and Amit who in today’s India should have never talked to each other, or at best exchanged a few innuendoes had A’s bike broken down and R given him a ride, have learnt to respect each other because of their bond to little utpal whose life has touched so many shattering boxes and discarding labels at the speed of light.
If i were to disappear today, this simple snapshot would have made my life worthwhile
In the land of the downtrodden and the illiterate, all is not as it should be. One would think that anyone who gives jobs to people considered unemployable, works towards containing drop out rates with success and cares for the differently abled should be welcomed with open arms..
Well that is not quite the way it works. A pack of hungry and almost desperate wolves lurks at every corner waiting for the slightest chance to attack. In a normal environment rude behaviour, personal slander and unwarranted physical attack of another would justify termination of services without compensation. We learnt a year back that, that was not the case. No matter what you did, and how you did it, no matter how many lawyers you consulted and papers you got signed, you were still open to attack as in this dark world there were unwritten laws that got amended and modified to suit any situation.
But what is even more worrying is the ease with which simple people get manipulated and pushed to act in ways that defy all reason. When the behaviour of one of our staff members warranted at least a temporary suspension, no matter how we tried to explain the situation, it is the roaming wolves who got the last word.
The wolves in question are petty politicos and shady unions waiting either to be fed as they are by factory owners who defy all laws and get away with murder, or to pounce on those who are honest, righteous and law abiding and particularly on those who are trying to make a difference and eroding their vote banks.
So in a jiffy your are faced with a letter packed with incredible lies, and with a visit from a labour inspector and a summons to the labour court. The first time it happened we were taken by surprise and vexed and in a hurry to settle matters. This time one is faced with a dilemma as one can see the larger picture and feels a little saddened at the way our staff is being used.
We could stand our ground and we know that after a few appearances the matter is likely to be set aside. Even if it is not we all now how our lower courts work. If we settle with the person a large chunk of the settlement will be taken by the unions and others. The sad part is that we had asked our staff to wait for a couple of months and would have found another option for her. Now things being as they are, one has to tread carefully.
The reason for this post is not to recount a simple incident, but to view it in a larger context. First of all it vindicates the stand that powers that be are not in favour of seeing education percolate to the lower strata of society as most of their ‘issues’ will come to nought once people comprehend the sinister game plans. But more than that it shows how easily people can be manipulated and how easily the carefully nurtured divisive elements of our society are used, be it caste or creed, state of origin or economic profile.
Many will say it is a lost cause, and frankly at moments like this even a die hard optimist like me wavers a little. But mercifully these flitter away as many success stories flash by. Change is slow but it is there. It is your staying power that is put to test. Over the years base accusations that sent me flying seem to have lost their effect and what keeps one going is the fact that even one person changed is a success.
To say that one does not feel alone and lost at times like these would be an untruth, but to give up would be letting one’s self down.
In the wake of the reservation issue and keeping in mind the abysmal state in which education for the less privileged is, many questions come to mind. Today’s paper published a report on India’s capital city which states that over 100 000 children in the age group 6 to 10 do not go to school. These are kids for which doors closed before they could open.
Then the question one could ask is who is the reservation for, when no one seems bothered about a huge section of the children of India.
Instead of thinking of basic education, the powers that be are busy placing quotas in institutes of high learning.
I am convinced that each one of these 100 000 kids is a potential entrant to the best institution, if given a chance no matter what label our divisive society choses to stick on his face. Force majeure made us find a boarding school for Utpal whose labels are quite fuzzy. His alcoholic mom hit rock bottom and had to be sent for a detox programme, and his ‘father’ just vanished.
Utpal goes to a boarding school where he shares his dorm with children coming from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. He has integrated and learns happily with his little mates, rides a horse, plays games, sings along and does what kids his age should do. All doors are opened for him and as years pass he will walk through the ones he choses and could become anything from a rocket scientist to a choreographer!
My impossible dream is to take 10 underprivileged kids age 4, belonging to various deprived groups , castes and creed and put them in school and watch what happens when they sit for their class XII. Unfortunately I do not have the funds to do so as it would cost around 4000 rs a month for each child – not a huge amount when you see what it gives and one compares it to what one spends on a child in a city like Delhi.
One needs a corporate of philanthropist to set aside the corpus that would revert back at the end of the education cycle. The common school is a pipe dream because of bizarre misconceptions, or rather because of a warped status symbol syndrome. The young principal of Utpal’s school was initially a little hesitant, but a short week after Utpal’s admission he was the one to send me a message telling what a great kid he was!
It is time someone thought of giving underprivileged children all the support they need in schools till the day we can have the elusive common school. The children of India have waited 60 years or 3 generations in the hope that something will happen. How much longer will they have to wait.
One has to understand that is is not separate schools, or parallel education programmes that will solve the issue, India will find its identity when children of all walks of life learn to live together, respect each other and learn from one another.
Children have a great way of adapting to situation and imbibing new ways.. it is our duty to give them that opportunity, till date we have failed to do so.. how many more generations will have to wait for us to see the light.
The picture is a little hazy, just like the dreams these kids dare to dream…maybe it is better that way.
These are children celebrating Independence day 2006. It was their decision, their planning and they even invited to local SHO, Mr Khan who always makes it a point to come.
They sang patriotic songs and spoke about freedom and what it meant to them. It is with pride that they hoisted the national tricolour and saluted it, their eyes looking up with hope and barely formulated dreams.
Most of them are OBCs or belong to some reserved category and yet not one of them knows it, let alone what it means and how it can change their lives. Most of them did not even go to school when pwhy decided to clean up a garbage dump and start its work. Today most of them have integrated school and some even topped their class. Suddenly the dreams seem less hazy.. or so they believe with their tiny hearts..
When I see these kids and realise how they trust us, I am at a total loss. The reality that they will grow up to seems bleak if not black! The protection that was so carefully crafted by those who wrote our constitution got hijacked without their knowledge and remodelled to suit other interests by the very people who should have guarded them. These kids will have their dreams shattered one by one at some stage or the other, it is is just a calamity waiting to happen.
As I watched students being doused by water guns in one of the anti quota rallies, I somehow felt that they may not have protested had children like the ones in the picture been the beneficiaries. But to reach that door, they have to walk passed many that still remain shut. The portals of the primary schools, the gates of the secondary one and then the entrance to higher education.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see the game Machiavellian game being played. The vested interests will ensure the loyalty of their vote banks while also perpetrating their illiteracy and hence their manipulability and all will be well in independent India where children of lesser gods have no voice.
I wonder what those like Gandhi or even simple people like my mother, who decided not to marry unless her land was free so that her child would not be a slave to the British would say?
Sixty years down the line, Indian children are still slaves: slaves to the greed of others, slaves to hidden agendas and much more. The Right to Education Bill lies unattended, dismissed, sent off to states whereas the bill to raise MPs was passed without a murmur.
That is the state of India, a tale of unkept and hijacked promises