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This was an exercise I was given as part of a closure report I was supposed to finish. To make the report slightly humane, it was decided that we would go and interview children, their parents and a couple of the teachers to find out what they felt about the schools they went to, which are all run by Bodh. Neither was I a teacher or had any experience in dealing with kids professionally apart from baby sitting my cousins and a couple of kids from my society years ago nor was I a professional journalist, carrying the air of confidence as I walked into those classrooms with a notepad and a voice recorder. I was in all terms, a ROOKIE and might I add, scared out of my wits as I walked into their schools, but all that fear evaporated the minute I saw those smiling faces staring back at me with those innocent eyes. Those faces gave me the strength to finish their interviews as proficiently and efficiently as an Architect could muster, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
I want to document all their interviews, but at the moment I’m beginning with Sonam, a 6 year old, Muslim girl from the Amagadh squatter settlements who has been with Bodh since her pre-school years. She is currently in the 2nd Grade and has been tagging along with her elder sister who is presently in the 10th Grade and due to Sunehra Kal Mission, (a programme which has been running for 7 years by ITC and Bodh for pre-school children) Sonam was also given a fair shot at getting started early with an education.
Sonam comes across as a quiet and diffident child but once she gets comfortable with you, her bubbly side comes to the surface. Sonam is one of many sisters and brothers and she gets dressed up every morning by her elder sister. When asked who her favourite teacher was, the answer came out short and sweet… Pooja Didi. She also went on to add that her favourite teacher hadn’t been coming to school for a while as she was suffering from an illness. Asked what they were taught during school, she promptly replied that she was taught songs to sing her baby brother to sleep and went on to recite the lullaby to us. She mentioned that she was taught to make words with ‘la’, ‘ka’ and ‘ba’, games with marbles, counting with stones, poems and story-telling. When asked what she does at home, playing house with her brothers and sisters and helping her elder siblings with household chores was the reply. Closing the interview with her was asking what she’d do if we closed the school. If you had asked me the same question at any stage in school or college, my answer would have been to scream out in happiness and joy and do a little jig. That is exactly what I expected from this 6 year old and then came the shocker, “I’ll go to the Masjid and read the Sufara.”
My family who are all in the line of education always told me that more than what they taught the children, the children taught them more and there was my epiphany. A 6 year old child telling me pointblank that she would go to the Masjid to learn about her religion if we shut down her normal school.
Religion is the opium of the people.
Here is an example of a child from a slum community where her parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet and yet, make it a point to educate each and every one of their children. Apart from coming to school and doing their homework, each and every one of them, including Sonam help out with household chores like washing clothes and sweeping their humble shacks. These people have nothing but religion to fall back on and who are we to judge them?
Why do they have so many children? The lower strata of society believe that every child is a boon from the Almighty. Another part of the religious angle is using any sort of contraception is going against the law of nature and you can’t ask them NOT to copulate. After all, God created it for man and woman to celebrate their union and enjoy part of it. Every additional child is an extra set of helping hands to earn for the family, be it a girl or boy.
Karl Marx, the German economist said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people“. Take that away from them and what will they have?
What is your role?
There are 320 slums in Jaipur and not all of the children from these slums are lucky enough to be in school like Sonam. I will be blogging about the other children from the other slums who I have interviewed and will interview in the following weeks and months. This entry was to enlighten you all to a world outside of your classrooms, colleges, offices, malls and cars… There is a world where people live with an open sewage canal passing below their house, a world where children die due to malnutrition and infectious diseases because the waste of the city is dumped in their backyard as squatter settlements are considered encroachments…. There is a world outside the comfort of my room where I’m making this entry where electricity is hard to come by… What am I doing about it? What are you doing about it? What are WE doing about it? It’s high time we opened our eyes to the filth that the world is surrounded and fought for them because God knows they DESERVE it!