Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking at the centenary celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University said that there has been an unprecedented increase in the rate of Muslim girl education in the country. It is due to the government policies, he said, that the dropout rate of Muslim girls reduced from 70 per cent to 30 per cent in the last decades.
The suggests that the government is investing steps in the right direction. However, there are a few regions where the impact of such schemes has started showing only recently, that too with the combined efforts of the non-government organisations to fight unawareness and orthodox values that act as a major hindrance.
One such region is Niwai Block in the Tonk district of the Western state of Rajasthan. In the block’s Khidgi village resides a nomadic community called the Muslim Banjaras who are known for their ignorance towards girls’ education. Their insistence to follow patriarchal beliefs restricting girls and women within the household is the main reason that has deprived several adolescent girls of their right to acquire basic education for long.
There are around 250 households in this rural settlement called ‘Dhani’ which, in local language, refers to the area settled by some families outside the main village. Pinki Khangar, a social activist, informed that a major part of this community earns its livelihood by selling blankets in other cities while few families are engaged in cattle trade. “Due to work, most men of this community migrate for more than half of the year.
Pooja Mudhane, a nineteen-year-old girl from Virar — a town in Palghar district of Maharashtra — was exposed to the ugly reality of caste system when she was in Class-III. The school had announced the final exam results in which Pooja had secured top position. She was eager to show the report card to her friends but her father stopped her from doing so. He said, “Our caste, Mahar, is mentioned in your report card. You don’t have to show it to others.” Pooja asked, “Why should I hide my caste?” She didn’t understand the concept of caste system, however, she did sense the shame associated with it.
19-year-old Ramzan Sheikh from Maharashtra is a second-year student pursuing Bachelor of Arts. Born in a lower-middle class family, Ramzan’s life has been about struggle and compromise. His father is a daily wage laborer while his mother is associated with a non-profit organization ‘Saryjani Mahila Utkarsha Sanstha’ engaged in TB control and Family Development programmes in the bastis of Bhiwandi. Having lived a life full of struggles, Ramzan is empathetic towards other young children and works towards supporting them through their challenges. Ramzan’s dream is to serve the country by becoming a soldier. He’s joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) to get basic military training. It’s here that he met another young boy, Rahul Yadav who exceled in shooting with great precision. While Rahul was aiming to join the armed forces as a sharpshooter, his economic condition was pulling him down. As eldest son of his family, he was under tremendous pressure to start earning. His girlfriend had also turned her back on him at the same point in time.
A few years ago, the residents of Mumbai were barely aware that a forest existed within the city, let alone the fact that Adivasis lived in it. One can only imagine the problem of identity that young Adivasis would face living in a city. With one part of life enveloped within forests and another amidst the chaos of a city, the Warli tribe has spent their life navigating this identity. Life of Manisha Dhine, a local Adivasi girl from this tribal community in Aarey, is a reflection of their struggles to fight for the right.
How do we measure merit and accomplishment? Why is the applause reserved only for the rank holders and successful students? Is academic success the only criteria of meritocracy? When you meet the 17-year-old Fiza Yusuf Sheikh from Bhiwandi you realize the unjust system of merit which is often a product of privilege. This teenager has done commendable work in her community, from stopping child marriages to persuading parents to seek immunization for their children but has failed to crack the Secondary School Certification (SSC) exam.
Born into the most ordinary circumstances, 16-year-old Zosha Khan’s story is full of strength and spirit. This young girl from Goregoan, Mumbai city in Maharashtra trying to make a difference by advocating for Child Rights. Her father is a salesman in a furniture shop and mother, a home maker. She has three siblings. The family finds it difficult to make ends meet with meagre salary that the father gets. But that is no deterrent to Zosha who thinks ‘will assumes more power than money’ and is herself a living example of this adage.
In a widely acclaimed interview with the Science Times in 2011, Stephen Hawking famously advised people with disability to focus on things which their disability does not prevent them from doing. He said, “Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically”. It is a piece of profoundly powerful advice from one of the greatest thinkers ever lived. Rutuja Raorane, an 18-year-old from Kankavli, Maharashtra, India embodies this advice. This is an account of a young change-maker who has been channelling her life experiences in creating a positive impact around her. It is her story of determination and a yearning to be independent. Rutuja was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 3. It is an incurable genetic disease that causes loss of muscle mass and progressive weakness. Rutuja’s parents – Deepak and Shweta Raorane, did not realize the specifics.
Joe Biden, the newly elected President of the USA had vowed to enact the Equality Act in his first 100 days of commencing the office. The said Act would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protection for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, federally funded programmes and jury service. In India, after decriminalising homosexuality in 2018, the legality of same-sex marriage is now being raised in our courts.
Saloni Todkari, a class 10 student, immediately after joining her new school at Kalyan was informed by her teacher that bindi and bangles were mandatory for girl students. Saloni and her friend Rekha (name changed) who wore neither the bindi nor the bangles, failed to understand the teacher’s insistence while the rule book of the school didn’t mention it. The overzealous teacher would often reprimand them and would offer these two ‘erring’ students the accessories from her stock – only to be rejected. Their behavior was soon reported to the principal who summoned the duo and asked for an explanation for not following the dictate of the school. She attempted at brainwashing the girls into conforming to the ‘good practices’ of the school and explained how ‘bindi’ is part of our culture with proven scientific benefits but the girls were not convinced.
“The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children,” believed Mahatma Gandhi who always had a special place for children in his heart. His immense belief in children has, undoubtedly, inspired generations and the values he had advocated continue to guide the young minds even today. One such young mind following the teachings of Gandhi is Maharashtra’s 16-year old activist Saloni Todkari.
The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children,” believed Mahatma Gandhi who always had a special place for children in his heart. His immense belief in children has, undoubtedly, inspired generations and the values he had advocated continue to guide the young minds even today. One such young mind following the teachings of Gandhi is Maharashtra’s 16-year-old Saloni Todkari.
When his band of friends came to call Vinayak Sonar for an evening around the usual katta last year, his mother met them at the door. “Kaku, where is Vinayak?” asked the teenage boys. “He’s washing utensils and said he will come later.” The band of boys burst into muffled giggles. Vinayak’s story isn’t about protest marches or youth conferences, but it’s about a silent revolution that adolescent boys in Pune’s communities are a part of – of moving from the belief of ‘protecting women’ to making the world a more gender equitable space.
In early April a tweeter user had put up a post saying that his children have given away all their savings towards Prime Minister Care Fund. A number of children have joined hands with citizen’s groups and NGOs to reach out to the communities who had lost their livelihood due the lockdown.
Covid19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has hit the lively spirit of children and young adults and they have been relegated to home. Many parents say that their children have become jittery and distressed. Lockdown has inspired some children and young adults to take to creative writing, whereas children from a slum in Oshiwara in suburban Mumbai have joined hands with an NGO wanting to reach out to the local communities for delivering food and other essential items. These children have also been providing technical support such as data pertaining to the number of households and their coordinates.
We require a key ally to shift from the popularly accepted notion of ‘protecting women’ to fundamentally changing the world around us to make it safer for women: young men. Sachin Balkunde, is one such thoughtful 19-year-old who has been having difficult dialogues about gender-based violence and discrimination with himself and his peers for the last 5 years.
Varad Kubal, a resident of Achara village in Sindhudurga District of Maharashtra is 15 years old. However, he belies his age when he starts speaking about the fragile ecosystem of his village. ‘The trees, the birds and the animals have to bear the brunt of the construction activities taking place in the district. Thousands of trees have already been felled and the environment around the village has become untenable.