“KA SE kabootar, kha se khargosh,” recites six-year-old Rohit, 25 other children echoing him. Except, this is not a scene from a school classroom. Rohit has never even been to school. Instead, he and the other children, sweating incessantly in the summer heat, are inside a tent made of hay, covered with blue and green plastic sheets.
They are from the Y K Jhuggi camp in east Delhi’s Yamuna Khadar. While the younger ones are taught in the tent, there’s a separate “classroom” for the 20 older schoolgoing students — a slab meant to build a flyover.
Both the groups are being taught separately by BSc student Satyendra Pal (23), who also comes from the camp, which has about 8,000 families. He has been imparting lessons to the children since January 2016. While he doesn’t charge a specific fee, parents are “free to give what they please”.
The nearest government school is in Pocket V of Mayur Vihar Phase I, and the municipal school that teaches primary classes is not too far away. But getting to either means a long walk and crossing the main road.
“Most of the parents here are farmers and labourers, so no one has the time to drop and pick the children from school. I know the value of education, so I thought I can at least teach them the basics. The little money these villagers give helps me pay my college fee and support myself. I cannot ask my parents for that,” said Pal, dressed neatly in a brown-coloured shirt and pants.
Rohit’s “classroom” has a slightly tilted whiteboard and charts with the English alphabet and numbers, torn from the sides.
When the weather is better, the older students are taught in an open field. But given the heat, parts of an under-construction flyover have become useful. “At least there is some shade now, otherwise we would look for trees to study under,” said 13-year-old Anuj, who has been attending classes here for over two years now.
Anuj goes to a school in Mayur Vihar Extension, Pocket 4 — more than an hour’s walk from home. He could not get admission in the Phase I school that’s closer since he didn’t have the required documents. “We got his Aadhaar card made and got him admitted to the other school,” said Pal.
Most families living in the camp, including Pal’s, are from Badaun in Uttar Pradesh. Pal completed his Class XII from the UP board, scoring 52 per cent in Science. He then had to skip studies for a few years “due to personal reasons”.
“Like others in my family, I started working in the fields, growing vegetables. In 2013, an uncle took me to Nagpur to an institute where I studied the teachings of Buddha and B R Ambedkar. That’s when I realised that I have to study further. Before I enrolled myself at Agra University, I started teaching these children,” said Pal.
Hardly anyone from the camp makes it beyond Class IX — most drop out after flunking. Pal said he hopes to change that. And slowly, he seems to be succeeding.
None of the 20 older students have to take summer classes at school since they fall under the “Pratibha” category. Under Mission Buniyaad, those in the “Pratibha” group at Delhi government schools can read and write as class appropriate.
Parents are understandably thrilled. Anuj’s father Harish, a farmer, tells Pal, “Please teach my son how to measure and calculate the area of the field. It will be helpful.”
Pal tells him it’s not part of the syllabus, but adds: “Sikha dunga mein, aap fikar maat karo (I will teach him, don’t worry).”
The generosity of some has helped Pal’s endeavours. “People who come to Yamuna Khadar saw me teaching, so they donated tables, chairs and boards,” he said. “Public school mein bhi itna accha furniture nahi hota (Even public schools don’t have such good furniture).”
Pal, however, acknowledged that he might not be able to sustain these classes in the long run. “Once I finish college, I will have to work so I can support further studies. I want to become an IAS officer. There was a school nearby being run by an NGO, but it was demolished. There are so many families here, the government must consider building a school for them.”