Ranju and Babita sit across each other on upturned buckets outside their tent in Shakurbasti in North-West Delhi. Babita shuts her notebook whenever she sees anyone approaching and grips her pencil tightly.
The politics of demolition and rehabilitation seemingly means very little to both. Ranju (10), is supervising as Babita (7) scribbles on her notebook. Both girls share a single notebook. Short of stationery, they use half the page for English and half for their Hindi homework. Their condition is the same as that of other children of Shakurbasti.
Most cannot find their books or notebooks and many have not gone to school since the demolition drive on December 12. Neither of the girls go to school. “I attend tuition classes at another jhuggi,” Ranju said. She and other girls from the basti study with an older, college-going girl from the basti. Unable to afford school, Ranju and her friends teach other girls at the slum whenever they can. There are others who attend formal school.
Rummaging through his tent for his books, Anand smiles and says, “If I don’t find them, I’m afraid my mother will burn them along with the firewood.” “The days are short and there is no electricity at night. If I have to find anything, it has to be done while the sun is still out,” he said. There is no school inside the basti and the nearest school is a kilometre away.
The Government Boys Senior Secondary School in Shakurpur is the Government Girls Senior Secondary School by day. Vice- Principal Jeet Singh said, “There are very few students from the slum. We do not maintain separate records for them but since most students are from outside the slum, exams will go on”. Ranju looks forward to starting her tuitions again. “Once things settle down and we have a home, didi will start teaching again,” she said, wrapping her shawl tightly around her.