In the Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh, a 12-year-old girl is lighting the way to education in her village.
Putting on her brown school dress and combing her hair to perfection, Jyoti sets out for her regular day at a Government run primary school in Bada Lewa Village. Apart from taking notes, Jyoti has another important responsibility – to serve as the President of Bal Panchayat.
The first week of every month starts with an activity called ‘tracking’ in school, where Jyoti and her fellow members of Bal Panchayat take a round of the village, looking for children who despite being enrolled are not attending classes.
Jyoti and her friends also counsel parents and relatives about the importance of education. On one such trip, Jyoti along with her team, manages to convince Anjali, her classmate, to attend school. Anjali was told by her grandfather to stay at home to look after her baby sister. But Jyoti convinced him otherwise.
“In our village, parents do not believe that education is the most important thing for their children. We are slowly making them realise that it is the only thing that will change the fate of the entire village for good”, says Jyoti with a spark in her eyes.
This 12-year-old is leading the change to make sure all children in her village go to school and get educated. This could not have been possible without the support of friends like you.
Jyoti’s mother, Ganga Devi, a Safai Karamchari (Sanitation Worker), harbours a secret wish for her daughter. “Ummeed hai ki humari beti humse bhi zyada padhe. Wo kuch kare. Use maan sammaan mile.” (“It is my hope that my daughter is able to study more than I could. That she accomplishes something. Something big in life…That she is able to reach where she gets respect.”)
Ganga Devi’s husband and Jyoti’s father has abandoned the family. “I built this house, the roof and the mud walls myself. My boys only listen to what other people say. Not what their mother says.”
Fortunately, Jyoti’s innocence and belief in her abilities are not to be tainted. At an age of 12, she is the guiding light for many in her village. While untouchability still persists in most parts of the state, children in this school sit together to eat their mid-day meal, irrespective of their caste and family background. The school has incentivised attendance by starting a toy bank. That is, children attending school for two weeks in a row get to take home a toy.
Also, the students make a list of infrastructural needs like a broken tap and a collapsed boundary wall that need to be repaired. They remind their juniors to wash their utensils after the mid-day meal and make a line when they need to use the hand-pump.
Unfortunately, not every village in India has a Jyoti. 60 lakh children in India are still waiting to step inside the school premises. More than 40% adolescent girls drop out of school due to deteriorating financial conditions, child marriage, superstitions or sheer ignorance.
While numerous laws are implemented in support of education, the reasons to deny education apparently outnumber them.