UP: Brewing Change in Remote Villages of Budaun
New Delhi: Megha (name changed), 15, from the Meera Sarai locality of Budaun district in Uttar Pradesh lost her mother to COVID-19 in 2021. She belongs to the Gihar community- a gypsy clan considered to be among migrating or partly settled communities, many of whose members are in the local wine brewing business.
Because of the business and the social stigma attached to it, children of the Gihar community are often an easy target of social discrimination in schools and other public places.
The personal loss left a huge impact on Megha. The entire burden of household chores and taking care of siblings suddenly came upon her young shoulders. Managing an alcoholic father and taking care of her two sisters at home – 12-year-old Kalpana (name changed) and 18-year-old Sanjana (name changed), who was mentally challenged – was no easy task. Megha hardly had time for her studies. She was a good student and used to score high marks in all exams, but everything changed once she lost her mother. As a result, she had to quit her studies, as did her younger sister.
This was a huge setback for Megha as well as Budaun's child rights organisation, Samagra Vikas Sansthan (SVS), which was constantly backing her in her educational journey since day one. “In 2016, when we started the Child Activity Centre (CAC) in Meera Sarai with the support of Child Rights and You (CRY), it took us two long years to convince Megha and her family to let her start her education. She was very hesitant to join the school because of the social discrimination and stigma linked to their community for their wine brewing business. Also, she felt it would be embarrassing to sit with children younger than her in the class. She once burst into tears while sharing her feelings," said Rajkumar Sharma from SVS.
Most of the children from the community shared similar reasons for not going to school. Some even shared they were being denied admission to schools as they often smelt of liquor.
For girls, it was even more difficult as many anti-social elements frequently visit the area to buy and consume local wine.
It was in 2017, when CRY initiated its community engagement projects of education that seek to ensure that individuals are involved in the change process from the programme's conception onward. It was because of community involvement and persuasion and advocacy done by the officials of the Uttar Pradesh School Education Department that in one single day, a total of 207 children were enrolled back to school in Meera Sarai government school.
Megha and her sister were also among children who enrolled in class 6 and class 1 after attending CAC for more than a year. The creative strategy and community-driven process at CAC that aims to provide learning support to all local vulnerable children aged 6 to 14 to instil fundamental abilities in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as life skills, helped girls like Megha and Kalpana to cover up faster and get enrolled into mainstream schooling. Even after getting enrolled back in school, the sisters continued to attend the CAC centre and life skills sessions.
Through regular support and motivation, the girls acquired age-appropriate competencies well and were doing well in academics. They had to drop out after their mother’s death, but as leaders of CRY's adolescent group, they started raising their voices in the adolescent and children's collectives.
Soon, pressure was put on their father to his daughters continue their education and he relented. In 2022, Kalpana stood first in her class and was recognised by the government authority, while Megha became one of the few from the community to get herself enrolled in class 9th.
Poor economic conditions and safety of girls are one of the major reasons that compel parents not to send their girls to school. But in places like Meera Sarai, where a school is situated close to the locality, what keeps children, especially girls out of school, is the lack of child-friendly teaching methods and encouraging interactive learning approaches.
Due to this, a child is not interested in going to school and studying. Families from poor and marginalised uneducated backgrounds are not able to understand the psyche of a child and fail to send a child to school seeing their hesitation and disinterest. For girls, who are more discouraged from pursuing education, this becomes even more difficult, and many of them are compelled to give up studies and get married.
Thus, there is a need to introduce sensitisation programmes to make parents aware about the importance of education for their children. Also, more child-friendly methods of teaching should be encouraged at schools.
In the past five years, more than 70 girls from Meera Sarai, who had either never been to school or were dropouts, got enrolled in schools after attending CAC. They were being pressured and discouraged to quit but they refused to give up. This clearly show that the stronger the agency of a girl child, the more the possibilities of them attaining their dreams despite challenging circumstances.
The writer is Regional Director of Child Rights and You (CRY). Views are personal.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.