With the second largest population in the world, India is home to millions of families living in extreme poverty, making it incredibly tough to priortise education when survival is at stake. Ironically, poverty and illiteracy are also closely linked. And when there are limited employment opportunities in the hinterland, earning a livelihood is not only difficult but the only focus.
In most rural parts of the country that don’t have an industrial set up, cattle rearing, erratic labour work and farming are the only means of sustenance. Those who don’t own agricultural land, work in other people’s fields like Varnmala*’s father in a village in Abu Road, Rajasthan. Farm labour work is seasonal and depends on sowing and harvesting cycles hence, not the most reliable or regular source of income. On other days, along with his wife, they rear cattle - just a few goats that they own. Barely making ends meet, the family of five share a one room kutcha (not built properly) house that also doubles up as cattle shed.
When Educate Girls Field Coordinator, Karmaram met the 7 year-old Varnmala, she had never been to school - her father had never considered it as an option. “For the family, having more earning members in the family was a better solution than educating all his children. Even though all his children are quite young, it still didn’t make economic sense for him to invest in their education because he’d rather have Varnamala, the oldest child, take care of the house and her siblings so that his wife and him can step out to earn,” shares Karmaram.
Since Karmaram had visited thor place, he was painfully aware of their dire condition so he knew it would be an uphill task to get Varnmala and her brothers and sisters enrolled in school. He knew that the only way around this is to make both the parents understand that ultimately it's education that has the potential to put an end to their cycle of poverty. That’s exactly what he did consistently for the next few months. “I started visiting the family regularly. I took help from the school teacher and the village Sarpanch. I took them to their house with me and told the family about the benefits of educating girls. I told them about the midday meal program and even made them aware of Government schemes they could apply for and avail if they have educated members in the family,” says Karmaram.
Karmaram’s efforts paid off in 2021 when Varnamala along with her younger sister and brother started attending regular school. Their school is a km’s walk from home and the narrow pothole ridden road doesn’t make the walk any easier, especially during the monsoon but the siblings rarely miss school because of this inconvenience.
Varnmala and her sister, Raina, are currently in Grade 2 and they are learning to identify and write simple words and numbers. When a teacher is running late or steps out of the classroom for some work, you can find Varnmala taking her place and making her classmates revise the lesson of the day.
Varnmala’s brother is the youngest so she takes complete responsibility of getting him ready for school, dropping him off to class and safely returning home with him. Both the sisters also help out at home with chores and grazing the cattle on their off days but on school days, their father doesn’t let them take up other work and asks them to study instead. He is visibly happy and proud of his kids, and hopeful for the future.
Varnmala with her family
Varnmala and her siblings in school