An ‘outcast’ tops class, heralding a social change
15 UP village kids from socially excluded strata return to mainstream school
By Kulsum Mustafa
What started as a nightmare for these children unfolds like a fairy tale today. These children succeeded through sheer hard work and perseverance believing that in order to cope with adversities one has to be the best. Ever since Kamlesh topped the third standard he is looked up to by his classmates. He is the blue-eyed boy of the teachers; his classmates vie with each other to be his friend. “They all take turns to sit next to me,” says Kamlesh, basking in his new found popularity.
Kamlesh has turned into a hero overnight at the Jamalpur hamlet where Kamlesh’s family lives along with 33 other families hailing from the socially excluded Sahariya tribe. Eldest of the four children born to a stone crusher, Kamlesh was among the fourteen children who stopped going to the primary school last year because of the harassment faced from the children of the so-called higher castes.
“I hated it all. These kids would waylay us and snatch our bags, tear our books and run off with our slates. They frightened us and one day I decided just not to go to school any more,” says Kamlesh recalling his trauma.
This “dropping off” triggered a wave of concern among the village elders. The menfolk among the tribe generally break stones for a living while the women collect and sell wood or gather medicinal herbs. Most of them have never seen the inside of a school, but for their children they had big dreams. So with the help of a local NGO supported by UNICEF, the villagers set up a makeshift evening school.
Here volunteer teenage teachers like Sonia and Sewakumari helped the students not just with studies but in developing a positive mindset. “We told them to be strong and fight out this battle themselves. We empowered them with knowledge and strengthened their will before readmitting them into the same school. Initially older boys would take turns to escort the children to and from school. Once inside the school, the fact that they knew more then their classmates built up their reputation,” Sonia explains.