“A girl is no less than a boy. We learnt it in a session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?”
12-year-old Divya lives in Shanker Nagar in Jaipur, a hilly area surrounded by the historic forts of Nahargarh and Amber. Home to Koli Mahawars,a Scheduled Caste (SC) group, Shanker Nagar’s residents are mostly unskilled workers.
|Divya, arriving at her Magic Bus session.|
The earliest account of this area is hardly historic or impressive to the tourists drawn to Jaipur’s royal forts and temples. Only the oldest residents like Divya’s grandfather remember the struggle to find work during those days “when most of the area was covered by forest”. Although much has changed about the settlement, the struggle for livelihood continues to underwrite the lives of its dwellers.
“The forests have receded. Our houses are now made of brick. But, finding a job which brings in enough money to make ends meet is still a distant dream”, says Divya’s grandfather, pausing only to remark about the insignificance of recalling a past which is no different from the present.
For the poor of Shanker Nagar, history isn’t demarcated into eras. Divya belongs to the same Koli Mahawar caste as the rest of the families in Sunder Nagar. Her father is a plumber and mother, a homemaker. The monthly income of the family stands at Rs. 5000.
Divya reads in the sixth standard of a local private school. She has two brothers. One of them goes to school while the other is too young to be enrolled. She lives with her extended family: three uncles, aunts, grandmother, and several cousins.
Her perception of life is influenced by her parents’ constant encouragement to dream of a better future after she completes her higher education.
“I want to be a doctor. People in my community laugh it off saying I can do no better than my father. But, I know, I will prove them wrong,” she says.
She joined Magic Bus a year ago. “People living in Shanker Nagar lack gainful livelihood options. Most of the inhabitants work as unskilled labourers just like Divya’s father. Alcoholism is common. Initially, there was no open and safe space for children to come out and play. The area we chose for our sessions was a little away from the community, right at the foothills. We made efforts to ensure that children are safe when they come here”, says Magic Bus’ Neelima who is in charge of the Magic Bus programme in Jaipur.
Her words are echoed by Divya. “Our community used to be unsafe for children because of alcoholics. Once during a Magic Bus session, a man approached a girl in my group to “play with him behind the trees”. Bhaiya and didi (local terms referring to Magic Bus’ Community Youth Leaders) immediately protested. I, too, stood up and asked the man to back off and mind his own business. I did not feel afraid to stand up to a man twice my age. Such incidents are common but we have learnt not to remain silent”.
Divya shares how a girl in her area was sold off by her own uncle so that he could buy alcohol. At a personal front, she has often faced crude jokes for being “dark-skinned”, a quality, her neighbours and children of her age, associated with “difficulties of getting a groom without paying a large dowry”.
Her dream of being a doctor has been rebuffed by many as an impractical and impossible dream as she was a “daughter of a plumber”.
Such incidents have led her to recognise the unequal treatment meted out to girls and women. It has also helped her find a way to address them through the Magic Bus programme.
“Silence is definitely not the way out”, she says emphatically. “Ever since I joined Magic Bus, I have grown confident of my ability to make it big in this world. With my mentors support, I have stood up to people who tease me about my skin colour or look down upon my dream to become a doctor. I have decided never to discriminate or tolerate discrimination, she shares.
She feels that other children who come for the Magic Bus sessions have changed a lot in the way they behave with each other, particularly towards children of the opposite sex. “Children who would earlier say demeaning things to each other, or behave rudely have changed their ways after coming to the sessions. Children who come to the Magic Bus sessions stay away from alcohol and substances. I have seen many of them encouraging their peers, and sometimes even their parents, to give up on alcohol and other substances”.
She points out the exact reason for her interest in the sessions. “All of us get to learn something new when we come to these sessions instead of sitting at home”. The lessons learnt during the sessions are not quickly forgotten. They are discussed in the peer circles and with parents. Divya’s mother testifies how her daughter is always excited about the “new information” she learns at Magic Bus sessions.
“She is the leader among the younger children. She makes sure no one misses out a session”, shares her mother.
“A girl is no less than a boy. We learnt it in a session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?” she asks. Her parting question tells us much about a 12-year-old’s conception of a gender-equal world.