FAKIRON KI BASTI
It must hurt as a girl, it must surely sting to have grown up in a family, where importance is given to the education of boys and watch them as a sibling, qualify as teachers or acquire skills from a polytechnic, while the girl child is made to help her parents at home effectively denying them an education.
It must hurt.
Yet Leela, who is a sahayika working in the Nand Ghar along with Moru and Baby Devi, shows no such bitterness. On the contrary, her cheerfulness is infectious and she responds to children with a bubbly persona that seems to rise up even as she sits on her haunches to meet each child at his or her eye-level and respond to them with a warmth and an embrace that is heart-warming.
Growing up at home, Leela, with two younger brothers and one elder sister, was keenly aware, even as a child, the odds against girls are stacked sky high.
“Those days, our parents would tell us to stay back home and we would listen to them. We would not question them. We wanted to study but once we were told not to go we stopped thinking about school,” she says, swallowing and smiling in a dignified way with no trace of bitterness.
She watched her two younger brothers being marched off to school every day. One of them is presently a teacher in a government school in Nimla, the village they grew up in. The other, after passing his 12th standard, joined a polytechnic and became an automobile mechanic, while Leela was given away in marriage as soon as she turned 18 having passed the 8th standard. Despite this she persisted with pursuing her education after marriage and has, to her credit, passed the 12th standard exam. She could easily be an Anganwadi worker herself if she were given a Nand Ghar to run, but with no other Anganwadis in the vicinity she provides Baby Devi with commendable support in taking care of children.
Ironically she has two sons – a 7 year-old and a 5-year old, and not daughters. The five-year-old attends the Nand Ghar she works in.
“No more children,” she says, despite one sensing she would have loved to have a daughter on whom she could have lavished attention and ensured she got an education on par with her two sons, for she quickly adds, “I ensure that every girl child coming to this Nand Ghar is not treated any less than the boys.”
She smiles as always, triumphant as always, as she prepares to clean the smooth tiles of the Nand Ghar that is her second home.