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RTE fails children caught in the vicious circle — poverty,chores and family

While the newly drafted rules of the Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act speak optimistically of measures to bring out-of-school children into mainstream education...

While the newly drafted rules of the Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act speak optimistically of measures to bring out-of-school children into mainstream education,most of the children in Sanjay Colony of Okhla Industrial Area,South Delhi,remain deprived of education for varied reasons,not least of them helplessness due to poverty. Newsline looks at three such lives:

Kamla Thapar,15
After she finishes work in the households of Govindpuri,Kamla returns to her one-room rented home where pictures of gods and goddesses adorn the walls. She works as a domestic help. Her parents are daily wagers.

Perched on the half-broken brick wall,silently watching the children running and shouting in the narrow alley below her home in Sanjay Colony,Kamla says,“It has been almost five years since I left school. The school I went to was only till Class V.”

There was another reason for not her being able to go to school — her siblings. “Sita and Usha were small then,” she says. “After our mother started working,my parents thought I should take care of them.” Eldest of the four children,Kamla made the sacrifice. “Only my brother Raju goes to school.”

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With poverty all around,Kamla understood her responsibilities. “I realised I too have to help the family earn if we have to go on. So I too took up work. It has been five months. This is how it goes,” she says calmly.

Shahana Ishfaq (11)
Every morning,Nazima Bano,mother of six,leaves her dingy one-room tenement to work as a domestic help. After a hard day,she comes back by 6 pm. Her husband Ishfaq Muhammad,who is a daily wager,joins the family later,“tired and at times angry”.

While the parents go for work,their six children stay home. This is when Shahana dons the mantle of caretaker. At 11,she is the eldest of the lot.


“Shahana stays home to take care of her younger siblings,” says Nazima. “She is helping the family by staying with them,otherwise there is no one to take of them. We work only for our children.” Noor Bano (6) Rehana (5) Tayeb Banu (2) and Afsar Ali (1) are Shahana’s responsibility during the day.

Does Shahana not go to school then? “No,she does not. We are poor. We work hard every day. But it is still difficult to make both ends meet,” says Nazima. The family moved to Delhi from a village in Uttar Pradesh five years ago.

From behind a torn curtain,Shahana speaks. “Ma and Abu go to work. I cannot leave home then. I always wished to go to school,learn English and become an afsar (officer),but it is not possible,” she says. “If I go,where they will go?” she asks,pointing to her younger sisters and brother.


When asked what she wants to become when she grows up,she says,“Maloom nahi (I don’t know).”

Sita (13)
Work begins with dawn. Every day,as children of her age leave for school,Sita (13),joins a different class. In a dark,dingy room in one of the narrow streets of Sanjay Colony,she helps her mother and neighbourhood ‘aunties’ sift through a pile textile waste to separate what can be useful.

“I have learnt to sift through the material and get useful scraps,” says Sita. “Different types of textile material are used for different purposes,” she adds.

In Okhla Industrial Area where many textile factories are based,the children have taken on a new hobby. The families buy material in bulk from a scrap dealer. Whole families sit around a pile of material obtained from a scrap dealer in the area and begin sifting. After separating the useful content,they sell it for a small profit.

In the process,the children’s education takes a backseat.


Sita once was a very keen student. “I went to school only till Class V,” she says. “Now I get Rs 70 for a day’s work,” says Sita. “By doing this I am also helping the family.” Mother Sushila Devi says,“If we don’t work,what will we eat? We are very poor.”

To make matters worse,her husband is physically challenged and cannot work. “He sits home all day. One of my two sons has already left me. What do I do? My other son,who works in a factory,does not earn much,” she says.

There are many like Sita here.

First published on: 02-07-2010 at 01:07 IST
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