Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Camera: Athar Rather
Senior Editors: Somya Lakhani, Shelly Walia
(In our new video series, 'लड़की हूं... पढ़ना चाहती हूं – India's Girls Out of School,' we are bringing you stories of girls from across the country who were forced to discontinue education and pushed into early marriages or work. From Madanpur Khadar in Delhi, we plan to go to Govandi in Maharashtra, Bulandshahr in UP, and more such places. Support us to help us complete this series, so that one of the most ignored stories of the pandemic can be told.)
Afternoons at Kajal’s home in Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar used to be loud, almost boisterous. After all, Kajal, now 18 years old, would retell stories from school – of teachers praising her, jokes cracked by classmates, and test marks.
In 2020, however, the afternoons at home changed, and became quieter. Kajal’s father, who worked in a courier company, lost his job after the pandemic struck. The lockdown made matters worse, and Kajal had to drop out of class 10 to pursue a job.
“Now, I go to office and come back home. There are no stories to tell anymore. I help with chores at home in the evening, we have dinner, and we sleep. The next morning, it’s time to leave for work again,” said Kajal, few months ago, seated inside her house on a day off.
It’s going to be two years since Kajal, the eldest among four siblings, had to quit school. She, however, is not the only one.
As per the analysis by Pew Research Center, the pandemic pushed 75 million Indians below the poverty line. The loss of jobs and poor spending power has had a direct impact on the education of the girl child in the country, with many being forced to leave school – to either save up on fee and other expenses or to get them to join the workforce.
The Quint spoke to more girls in the south-east Delhi locality who were shunted out of the school due to circumstances at home caused by the pandemic-induced lockdown.
These are their stories.
'I Was Made the Monitor'
Nitasha’s fondest memory from school is when her class teacher made her the discipline monitor. The 18-year-old’s face lights up with joy as she remembers that moment.
“The teacher noticed how neat my uniform was, my hair nicely braided, and I was disciplined, so she made me the monitor."Nitasha, who dropped out of class 10
In 2020, like Kajal, 18-year-old Nitasha too had to leave school. Being raised by a single mother, she was told that money was tight at home.
“The lockdown made things tough, and I had to take up a job. I wanted to study at least till class XII but I was needed at home.”Kajal
Often, she gets calls from her friends who update her about class gossip, their test results, and new and old friendships. “They tell me they miss me, and that they wish I was in school. It feels terrible. I miss them too but I have responsibilities at home now,” she says.
Apart from the stress of taking up a job, another reason many girls were left out of the school system once the pandemic hit was the online class module. Of 10-year-old Rinky’s five siblings, only one could study after schools moved away from offline classes.
“My father worked in a salon but lost his job during the lockdown in 2020. There is only one smartphone at home and we are five sisters. How will all of us study? So, I dropped out but I miss school. I want to go back."
'Don't Want Marriage, Want Education'
Zainab, 18, suffered the same fate. Her father Jamshed Ali, who is a rag-picker, received many calls from the government school his daughter was enrolled in till 2020 after online classes started.
“The teachers would say that she needs to continue her education. How could that be? We don’t have a single smartphone. It cost Rs 7,000-Rs 10,000. I don’t have that kind of money.”
Zainab’s teary-eyed mother chimed in. “During the lockdown, there was no money to feed her, buy her clothes or books. What option did we have?” she asked.
Another fear that has gripped Zainab is that of marriage. In the last two years, she said, several classmates she grew up with, were married off.
“I don’t want to get married. I want to study and earn money. I want to prove it to people who underestimate girls that I can do anything I want with my life."
For girls like Kajal and Zainab, the road ahead is riddled with potholes but their dreams are still intact, as is their will. “My dream is still there somewhere. Maybe I will collect some money and then finish my studies from the Open school. Par padhai nahi chhutegi mujhse,” said Kajal.