A 19-year-old resident of the Rehabilitation colony in Dhanas, Priyanka dropped out of school four years ago, after she completed tenth grade at Government Model High School in her locality.
“I just hated going to school,” she says while applying henna to her sister-in-law’s hair, sitting on an empty food cart outside her residence building. Her sister-in-law looks up and chimes in: “She does not hate school, it is the boys who gathered outside the school here. All kinds of boys and grown men, they harassed the girls. Now, she stays at home but at least she is safe.”
While the National Girl Child Day was celebrated in schools, colleges and government institutes across the city on Friday, young girls at the Dhanas Rehabilitation Colony sat outside their homes, in the sun, knitting sweaters with their mothers and in some cases, even their mothers-in-law.
Another resident of the colony, Varsha says, “My daughter did not complete her schooling either. I got her married when she was in the ninth grade and now she stays with her in-laws. She is settled and safe there. This is not the right environment for young women to live in.”
The principal of Government Model High School RC-2 in Dhanas, Ravinder Kaur says that absenteeism has always been a problem in her school. “We have to chase families and ask them to send their children to school. Not just girls, boys as well drop out, or they do not come to the school for days in the end,” she adds.
Kaur says that there are various reasons why children are compelled to drop out of school or take long leaves of absence. “Some of them are so poor, they have to drop out and help their parents earn, so they take up jobs. Meanwhile, others, mostly boys, get addicted to drugs and stop coming
to school,” says Kaur.
Perched at the edge of the Rehabilitation Colony, the government school is a welcome contrast to the rest of the colony. The school encloses gardens, wide sanitized spaces and the hustle-bustle of an active student population; whilst the colony remains stuck in malaise, with older children and adults sitting in lawns strewn with garbage and stagnant sewage water. “We are not sure how to help the children outside the school premises, but in school, we try to engage them in whatever way we can. This can be their escape,” says Kaur.
Kaur’s school has more than 2,500 children, all of them come from weak socio-economic backgrounds, and most face a difficult time concentrating on their education well-enough to pass grade ten.
“They come from disturbed families, and they live in cramped one-bedroom apartments, with seven or eight family members. They do not get the time or the personal space to just sit down and study, but we do our best to teach them here at school or provide them counseling sessions,” adds the principal. She says that gender bias also leads to the parents not sending their girls to school after the eighth grade since education is free only till the eighth grade and parents prefer to spend their limited financial resources on their sons.
“But what good is it to spend money on sons? Most of them are unemployed even after finishing school, or they become drug addicts with no adequate facility to rehabilitate them or give them proper counseling,” says a teacher at a school near the colony. “We need more counselors at schools. There is anyway a shortage of counselors in government schools, but here, more than ever. We need a permanent counselor rather than a shared one, who at least visits two times a week,” adds the teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Kaur echoes the teacher’s opinion. “There are boys with aggressive streaks. They need proper care and counseling, or they will direct their rage in all the wrong directions and once they get into
wrong habits, they slip out of our hands,” says the principal.
Despite the deteriorating condition of civic amenities and women’s security in the colony, its residents claim that no one from the administration comes to look into the matter. “We do not know who to contact to complain about these issues, so we just go about our lives. Sometimes the police come and take rounds, but nothing substantial is done,” says Ranjit Kaur, a resident at the colony, whose daughter also dropped out of school after ninth grade. “There was an issue at school, she felt unsafe. But when we complained to the police, they did nothing. They told us to control our daughters instead,” claims Kaur.
The elected councilor of the colony, Sheela Devi says that she is not responsible for the EWS colony as it has been “adopted by Kirron Kher”.
The councilor says, “The colony is not under my jurisdiction, but of course, if these poor people ever need my help, I will provide it. If they want, I will also go to the police station and make sure the police take stringent action and makes the colony safer for girls.” Meanwhile, the official website of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation states that the EWS Colony in Dhanas is Sheela Devi’s ward.
“We cannot just stop sending our girls to school because of fear. Instead of keeping them locked at home, we should tell our boys to stop being predators. Why do not we ask them to behave for a change?” asks Meena Devi, a migrant laborer from Bihar, sitting outside her house on a cot and knitting a school sweater for her daughter. “No one will come to save us. We have to look out for ourselves,” she adds grimly.
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