“You guessed it right, it’s a baby girl;
a girl, who has no idea whether she’ll go to live or not…”
As she recites lines from a poem called ‘Why is a girl never wanted’, Devjani’s cheeks go red with passion, her brows furrowed and eyes darting, hands moving to enunciate her point. The fiery delivery leaves her audience with a lump in their throats which doesn’t melt for a long time. Maybe this is why she won the first prize for this poem in a pan-Bhilai poetry recitation competition. Devjani Chaudhary, 9, daughter of contract labour Jyotirmay Chaudhary, fluent orator in Hindi and English, is one of the 295 other first generation learners of Bhilai Ispat Kalyan Vidyalaya (BIKV), an English-medium school catering exclusively to children coming from below poverty line (BPL) families.
With an intention to alleviate families living in abject poverty by providing education to their children, BIKV was started by SAIL Bhilai Steel Plant in 2007. Every year, a new batch of students is inducted with a girl:boy intake of 15:10. The students are provided with meals, sometimes the sole reason for which parents allow their children to attend school. Other necessities such as books, stationery, uniform, travel arrangement etc are provided for.
Younger of two sisters, Devjani belongs to a family of supportive parents. Unlettered parents have their own limitations in understanding the demands of school and pattern of learning, but her parents try hard in helping her with her assignments, even if it entails foregoing a day’s wage. But all families are not alike. Grinding poverty takes its toll in many other ways. Children of such families live under conditions of privation and associated negatives drunkenness, drug addiction, violence and abuse. Teachers of BIKV often have to double as parents to closely monitor the habits and progress of every child, and prepare themselves to start from scratch every day.
“If a child misses school for more than four days, our teachers go to their house to find out what the matter is”, says Ms Ruby Burman Roy, Principal BIKV. She informs that parents of students are mostly daily wage earners working as mechanics, rickshaw pullers, labours etc. A veteran teacher, Ms Roy asserts that even though the IQ of these children is the same as other children, they have an unmatched hunger to learn which sets them apart from others. Teachers of BIKV often have to sit with students during lunch or post-school hours to help them pass their grades, even if it take six to eight re-tests. In absence of parental guidance, their work load gets multiplied.
“During the Annual Day celebration of the school, when children dress up and perform on stage, we see the look of pride on the parents’ face, often streaked with tears of pride…that is our reward for this job. 300 families will have a better future tomorrow”, adds the Principal with a smile.
Meanwhile, Devjani surprises us with another of her feats. She stood second out of nearly 200 students in Bhilai Bharatnatyam Dance Competition. This is besides her talent in painting and playing kho-kho. Clearly a girl of many talents, she harbors the dream of being a doctor when she grows up. She doesn’t mind being a dancer either. Or a sports-woman for that matter! Asked about what has been her proudest moment in life, she demurely responds, “when I told my parents about my grades in class, they told me that I’m better than a son”.