February 12, 2014 12:52:07 am
Surekha Dhole dropped out of school at the age of 17 years as her family did not have the means to educate her any further, got married two years later and bore three children soon after. At 24 years, she was rendered homeless by an abusive husband and forced to fend for herself by working at first in bars and then as a domestic help. After twenty years, Surekha is back in a classroom, with 340 other housemaids from across Mumbai, with an ambition to become a lawyer just so that she can fight for hapless women like her.
From battling drunken husbands and barbs from sneering neighbours to juggling multiple jobs to pay off heavy debts, the classroom is a haven where these women restructure their dreams and harbour hopes of providing a better future to their children.
The Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, with funding from the newly set up state government body Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board, is at present holding first year graduation classes for school drop-outs working as housemaids.
The success of the first batch has meant that more than double the numbers, about 800 women, have enrolled for this year’s entrance test. Those clearing the class 12 level test will attend their graduate classes every Sunday from June.
Until last year, 36-year-old Shoba Ghewade never stepped out of her house except to work in the residential apartments bordering her New Agripada slum in Santacruz. Infused with a shot of confidence after being ranked second in last year’s entrance test and attending classes regularly ever since, Shoba has recently set up a home-based business of generating paper dishes and aspires to stand for the BMC elections.
“I want to join politics to improve the quality of education in BMC schools and provide free college education to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said. Shoba, whose academic life was cut short two decades ago for want of money, says she now feels better equipped to tutor her secondary school-going children.
In addition to the domestic workers, spanning the age group of twenty to sixty years, the first batch includes 65 of their children who are also school drop-outs. “At present, the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board provides Rs 665 per student for the entrance exam fee, while our university offers a 50 per cent course fee waiver for all domestic workers,” said Prakash Deshmukh, Regional Director of the university.
Dhruv Redkar from the Mumbai Workers’ Front, one of the directors of the Board that includes trade union leaders as well as seven principal secretaries from the state, said, “In order to ensure that maximum number of domestic workers benefit from the scheme, we hold a four-month preparatory course to help the women clear the entrance test.” Apart from basic subjects such as languages, social sciences and general knowledge, a diploma course in house management will be offered starting this year for the domestic helps.
However, for some like 28-year old Kanchan Chorge, who dropped out of her school in Kolhapur more than ten years ago, going back to her books is not about starting a new career or upgrading her skills as a housemaid. “I never valued education as a child as no one in my family has ever studied beyond matriculation. But, after coming to Mumbai post marriage, I felt something was missing in me. My classroom lessons over the last one year have increased my self-esteem greatly,” said Kanchan who goes to college with her two young children and sits through the classes, while the tiny tots drift off to sleep in a corner of the classroom.
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