Divya was a new teacher who joined our school at the beginning of that academic year. She had earlier worked in Nagpur and along with the transfer of her husband’s job she moved to Mumbai and was selected as a maths &science teacher in our school. She was allotted one of the backward divisions for teaching mathematics. It is an irony that most of the children who are backward in studies were also from a poor background. Many of them lived in shanties where the electricity used to be disturbed most of the nights and the children were not able to study in the night or they had serious water problems and the children were required to sit late to fill water in the house. Coupled with so many domestic problems these children had to fight a battle every day to study and make their life better and to get the education.
There was a girl Seema in this class. Her father was working as an electrician and one day he died in an accident while working. The corporation did give his family a handsome compensation but the relations of her father cheated the uneducated mother and took away a bulk of the amount. Thus Seema’s mother was struggling for very existence by working as a cook in some houses but still, she managed to send her child to school. Seema, after helping her mother for the cooking and washing, was very weak in health and was also exhausted by the time she came to school. Naturally, she was very average in studies and was always in the borderline.
One day Divya talked to me in her free time. She said, “Madam, I am very worried about Seema. Poverty, lack of a supporting male member at home, uneducated mother, these are all potent combination which can easily destroy the future of the girl.”
I was rather surprised. I said, “ Divya why are so worried?. For so many years we had seen such children coming from very poor families and having only mothers supporting them. But the girls had done well in past. These girls know their responsibility and in by the time the final examination is around they put in more hard work and they all pass by the end of the year”
Divya said,“ Madam, I was reminded of a girl Aruna in my Nagpur school and the dangerous situation she was trapped into, just because of the same circumstances” As both of us had a free period I settled down to hear her story and she started.
She said, “The school I worked was a corporation school and mostly had children coming from the nearby slum. Most of the children were very weak in studies and we used to give them extra classes to help them to catch up with the regular classes. There was a girl Aruna in my class. One day her mother came to school and told me that she had lost her husband recently in an accident, and she was working very hard to manage for the books etc for Aruna. I told her that I will take care of Aruna and pay some extra attention to her in the class and she will be alright. Days rolled by and we had finished the first term. Aruna had scored the lowest marks in mathematics. We had a teacher’s meeting and we were discussing a project for the possibility to coach the very weak student. But somehow this did not materialize as all the teacher had already too many extra activities such as preparing children for elocution, science, maths and such competitive examination etc.
As I was wondering about how to manage the situation for Aruna, I noticed a sudden change in Aruna. She started wearing some types of flashy trinkets in ears and flashy jingling bangles. Her face looked a bit too much made up for the school. Then she started remaining absent. First two days, then next two days I brushed off. But when she was absent for the third sequence I pulled her up and asked her for the reason for her absence. Aruna was a bit shaken up and she said “Madam, my grandmother lives alone in a house close to the school. Many times when she is sick, I go to her house to help her” I told her strictly, “Aruna. You are in X the standard and your attendance is very important for forwarding your application form for the Board. If you remain absent so many time, I am afraid I cannot help you and you would miss the year”
I asked some other girls who stayed close to the Aruna’s grandmother’s house to give a message to the Grandmother. Next day the grandmother came to school. What she told me with tears flowing from her eyes was too shocking. She said “ I was not bothered when my daughter in law went into the cheap flush trade after my son died. But she is now trying to force my grand- daughter also into the trade. So the poor girl runs away from home and takes shelter in my house. What can I do? How can I stop my daughter in law?”
Now I did not know how much she says is the truth. Hence I told Aruna to get her mother to school. When she came I said, “Aruna is missing too many classes. She is already poor in studies and added to that the bad attendance will force us to hold up her form, from appearing for the board examination”
This is one type of false threat, we give to all parents when their wards are frequent absentees or there are other in discipline problems. Without fail, all the parent will buckle down under this threat and will definitely improve their children’s behavior.
But Aruna’s mother gave me the shock of my life with her answer. She was neither a humble, nervous mother I had met some time back. She was all dressed up now in a flashy way and she said a rude arrogant voice, “ Madam not only you, even the Principal of the school cannot stop my daughter from appearing for the examination. I am dead sure of it. So don’t give me this empty threat”
Swallowing hard my pride and the shock I said, ” How are you so sure? I am her class teacher who is supposed to certify her attendance and the Principal is the authority to forward her application form for the examination. I hope you know that, don’t you? Then how can you say that we cannot stop her application?”
She said in the same arrogant manner, “ You teachers or your school cannot do anything. Because I am giving tuition to my daughter from Mr. XXXX, who you know is a management committee member. He is more powerful and he will see that not only my daughter gives the exams but also she passes the SSC. He has contacts you know!”
As I stood with open mouth she walked away. Though I was in the school for past three years I was little aware of any details about the management member. Later I approached a senior teacher and asked her about the Mr. XXX.
She looked a bit surprized and said, “Divya, why are you asking about that dirty dog?” Then she further told me that he was now an X management person. He was about 68 years old and was a widower. He used to trap the poor girls in the name of free maths tuition in his house and abuse them. The girls compelled by their need to pass the examination used to keep their mouth shut. But one day one of the parents discovered the truth and the news exploded. The management immediately threw him out. So now he was not at all connected to the management anymore.
I remembered what Aruna’s grandmother told me. I remembered all that sudden flashy dressing pattern of Aruna. I understood that old fellow had fooled Aruna’s mother and lured her in sending Aruna for maths tuition. Her life was in danger.
After an urgent meeting with the Principal, we contacted an NGO who worked for the Women and Child Welfare. This member along with police visited both Aruna’s mother and the ill-famed man and gave them the threat of arrest. Aruna’s mother agreed to keep her in her Grandmother’s house till the board examination was over. One of our retired Lady teachers agreed to give a special coaching to Aruna in her Grandmother’s house.
Aruna’s mother was given a clerical job in one of the NGO’s who also gave some councilling for her. Aruna passed the examination and life changed for both the mother and daughter. Later we heard Aruna went for some technical school and later got employed there.”After finishing the story Divya said, “Madam can you now understand my fears.”
I somehow convinced that in our school such things can never happen and even the single uneducated mothers are world wise, and they take care of their daughters. But though I talked to her very convincingly the fear now got transferred from her mind to mine and started haunting me. I started watching all the girls very carefully to see if there is some change in their behaviour pattern etc. As and when possible gave some general advice to the backward division children that we teachers are their best friends and they can always approach us as and when they have some problem. One by one I called the poor mothers and talked very friendly to them encouraging them to approach us for any help needed. Days rolled by and as usual all those girls from the very poor families passed the SSC with good marks in their first attempt. The haunting fear slowly disappeared from my mind.
But as a teacher, many time I wish the educational institution could do something more to these struggling children beyond their usual teaching. The school building remains vacant in the night. If a project is implemented with some retired senior teacher volunteers, the school could be opened for these poor children for studying in the night up to 12 in the night. The children will have electricity, fan and more than that a peaceful atmosphere. The retired teachers can supervise that discipline is maintained. How many poor children can benefit from this? Hope someday such dreams will be realized.