It Is Now All About Sums, Not Samosas

It Is Now All About Sums, Not Samosas

Shanu could rattle off multiples of five with ease. But that was it. He couldn’t read or write otherwise. At eleven years of age, he had never gone to school but he practically did everything at his mama’s samosa shop. Just like the multiplication table he gives you the perfect recipe to make good samosas. The samosas that come at Rs 5 a piece!

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No child from Shanu’s village—Haswa Bazaar in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district—went to school because the school is far and no teacher wants to come and teach. The latter stemmed from the perception that the Muslim community in that part of the village were thieves and/or untouchables.

What made matters worse for Shanu was the fact that he and his mother were dependent on his mama, his maternal uncle. Shanu’s father had passed away when he was young and left without any source of income they were on the verge of destitution. His mama brought them home but instead of sending him to school, made him work at his samosa shop. Shanu was cheap (almost free) labour for him.

He had never seen school in all his life. Just like all the other children from Haswa Bazaar. Not far from Shanu’s village, is another village also in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district, where children as young as four- and five-year-old’s were working in potato farms during the lockdown.

So when Mohalla Classes started in Haswa Bazar, parents and children were counselled. The parents wanted their children to read and write; one of the parents provided space just outside their house to hold the classes. As children started coming, our community mobiliser realised that the children couldn’t even draw a straight line.

A lot of hard work and perseverance by our team in Fatehpur—especially community mobiliser Anita and colleague Sonali Keshari—has helped prevent children from becoming child labours. The Mohalla classes introduced them to reading and writing. And the results after 3-4 months were encouraging — children could draw, read, write, recite poems, and rattle off alphabets in Hindi and English and the multiplication tables!

The point being that they were child labours. We say, ‘were’ because they have now been admitted to schools. In December 2021, Oxfam India did a survey in select 16 panchayats in 6 districts—Raebareli, Fatehpur, Pratapgarh, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Saharanpur—and identified 824 out of school children; of these 5 per cent were engaged in income generating activities. The two years of lockdown, with schools shut, meant that they were at every risk of becoming out of school children and being pushed into child labour to contribute to the family’s income. 

In our experience, the Mohalla Classes have been extremely important to bring children like Shanu in the folds of education. The classes were a huge hit with the parents too.

For children like Shanu and the others in Haswa Bazar, the mohalla classes have been a blessing.  In the gram panchayats of Fathepur, that we work in, we identified 84 school children and nine out of them were into formal child labour while others were involved in grazing, begging and other agricultural activities. Now most of them have been enrolled in schools. 

When we met Shanu a couple of months ago, he had said, “ab samosa nahi, ganit ke sawal banaoonga”. He stopped working at his uncle’s; in fact his uncle too shut his samosa shop to start something else. This was also made possible by some amount of counselling for the uncle and the rest of the families as well. The child who could barely draw a straight like to write the alphabet until six months ago could now sign forms for an adhaar card that would help him get admission to an age-appropriate class in a nearby school.

Shanu is now enrolled in class 5 in Haswa-I Composite Vidyalaya in Haswa village. And he continues to attend the Mohalla Classes as well. 

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We work to achieve the goal of universal, inclusive and quality elementary education.

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