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At heart of Ghazipur protest site, a pathshala for children of ragpickers

The classes were started by members of the Mata Savitribai Phule Mahasabha, with an aim to teach farmers’ children since they were missing out on school. Simultaneously, organisers started teaching local children who frequented the site to collect waste.

Written by Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: February 15, 2021 8:17:47 am
Ghazipur protest site, pathshala for children, pathshala for ragpickers, Farmers protest site, farm laws, Indian express newsClasses take place in two shifts — 10 am-12 pm and 4-6 pm. (Photo: Ashna Butani)

What started as an informal class for 12 children of farmers on January 22 at the Ghazipur protest site has now turned into a ‘pathshala’ attended by children of ragpickers from nearby areas.

The classes were started by members of the Mata Savitribai Phule Mahasabha, with an aim to teach farmers’ children since they were missing out on school. Simultaneously, organisers started teaching local children who frequented the site to collect waste. After January 26, a number of women protesters left the site along with their children. Now, the ‘pathshala’ has over 90 local students, who attend in two batches.

Radha (10), one of the students, said, “I left my previous school because they used to ask for fees that my father could not afford. I don’t have a mother and my father works as a ragpicker… I like this pathshala better than my old school.”

Lakho (11), whose parents run a tea stall in Vaishali, said, “This is the first school I am attending. I am learning alphabets and numbers.”

On Saturday afternoon, children added colour to the protest as they marched to the main stage to the song ‘nanha munna rahi hoon’ after their class for the day was over. The classes take place in two shifts — 10-12 in the morning and 4-6 in the evening.

Addressing farmers, Nirdesh Singh (30), one of the organisers, said, “The protest has replaced the pannis (wrappers) and bottles on the shoulders of these children with pencils and copies.”

The ‘pathshala’ runs out of a tent situated at the heart of the protest. Inside, a white board features alphabets and numbers. At the bottom of the board, a slogan reads, “Shiksha ka humko adhikaar, sabko shiksha dey sarkar (we have a right to education, the government should provide education to all).”

The NGO operates out of Moradabad and has been working in the field of women’s empowerment and education for a decade. Dev Kumar (30), who is among the organisers, said the initiative is not a temporary one: “We have collected information of all children who are attending and are trying to speak to some of their parents. We want to ensure that after the protests, they are enrolled in government schools or in private schools under the EWS quota.”

For Limbati Mouray (25) from Chhattisgath, who is currently pursuing her MA, volunteering here happened by chance. She said, “I came to see the protests around 10 days ago. I encountered these classes and decided to volunteer. I have gotten quite attached to the children so I will continue volunteering for some time.” Her own classes take place online.

The students at the pathshala are aged between 4 and 12 and organisers said the lessons depend on the age and expertise. If someone already knows how to read and write, they are given personal assistance. Organisers said they do not accept donations but welcome pencils, notebooks and any other study material.

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