44 Boxa Tribe girls enrolled in school, but where are the books?
Dehradun, Uttarakhand, Nov 23: 16-year-old Neha was brimming with joy when she was told that 3 years after quitting school, she was being re-admitted in 8th class. She was enrolled, but her excitement soon came tumbling down when she realised that resuming her studies was just a dream yet. 3 years back, Neha was forced to quit school after she failed to buy her books, the horror returns. Almost 2 months later, wearing a bewildered look she asked, ''but how do I study without any books or phone?''
17-yr-old Ravina who also belongs to the Boxa tribe, a resident of Sherpur village in Vikasnagar block of Dehradun district, has been enrolled in class 10th at the Boxa Jan Jati Krishak Inter College, Sherpur.
Schools in Uttarakhand opened on 2nd November for classes 10th-12th with only 50 percent capacity, but Ravina is yet to commence her preparation for the crucial board examinations.
Devoid of books, failure to pay her exam fees has added to her woes. She fails to comprehend the reason for the delay in receiving her books and why is the fees being sought, ''We were told that the education would be free. The school says we need to submit the exam fee to appear for the examinations. I don't understand what to do. What was the point of my enrolment if I still can't attend school.''
Just like her, 44 Boxa tribe girls were enrolled by the Dehradun administration, years after they dropped out. In a symbolic gesture, these girls were given school dresses and 4 notebooks with some stationary in a school bag hung over their shoulders. The ceremony was held on 11th October, 2020 in celebration of the International Day of Girl Child.
Donning white hats and masks, these girls couldn't contain their excitement. They were amused that their school bags weren't as heavy as the usual ones, as they missed out the most essential tool to their education- their precious books.
The clock is ticking as November approaches its end, but they still haven't held their books yet. A program that intended to mark their new beginnings on the path of education seems to have lost the sheen.
Amrita, an anganwadi worker in Sherpur village, is clueless when the girls enquire about their books. ''These girls can only start studying once they get their books, they are extremely poor and can't even afford their fees. Online education is a luxury that these girls can't afford. Instead of giving them dresses, the administration should have given them their books. Now despite the enrollment, these girls are completely helpless,'' she said.
17-year-old Deepa from Sherpur, has been admitted into 9th class after a gap of 4 years.
This time she is determined to finish off her education, but without books or a mobile phone, she is worried about the approaching exams. ''Nobody tells us when we will get our books. Our final exams are due in March, we will surely flunk if they don't give us our books. I don't want to lose another year. Why is nobody giving us our books?''
As the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic rages on, most of the students across the state continue to study from home. While these Boxa girls are still working in the fields or toiling in their household chores. Seldom are they encouraged to pursue education by their parents, who are mostly labourers. The Boxa tribe is one of the most backward tribes, most commonly found in the Uddham Singh Nagar and Vikas Nagar belt of Dehradun district in the hilly state Uttarakhand.
It was a herculean task for the Anganwadi workers to bring these girls out of their homes. These ground warriors didn't give up and finally got these girls enrolled. ''We had to personally visit their houses numerous times to convince them to get enrolled in schools again. Now we are worried that our efforts will go waste if they don't get their books soon. Many of them marry young or feel shy once they are too old among their batchmates. They are finally enrolled in school, but it has led them nowhere,'' said Sangeeta, another anganwadi worker from Sherpur village.
A survey was carried out by anganwadi workers who have been working on ground with the local rural communities, said Akhilesh Mishra, programme officer, Dehradun district.
''We got 44 of these Boxa girls enrolled in school. They will be getting books from the education department or else we will try to arrange the books for them.''
18-yr-old Varsha who is from a different community was also enrolled along with the boxa girls. She somehow managed to arrange a mobile phone thinking that she could study online or on whatsapp, but she was met with disappointment when nobody reached out to her. After a gap of 4 years she can't even find her old books. She quit school to take care of her sick mother and now she has lost her own path.
Apart from the Sherpur village, Boxa Girls in Hasanpur village in Vikasnagar narrate a similar ordeal. As 12-yr-old Amrita had quit school last year because she didn't have notebooks, this time she doesn't have books. She asks when will her books arrive, the answer is only a deep silence.
Taruna Chamola, Child Development Project Officer Vikasnagar handled the project on ground with supervisor Soni Rawat. ''Boxa tribe girls drop out very early from school as they are forced to work at home or raise their younger siblings. These girls don't get too many chances in life as they get married and become mothers at a very young age. We will give them books once we get them,'' she said.
For most of these girls returning to school will be near impossible next year. Had their school bags been heavier, their life's burden would have lessened. Coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the education of the underprivileged kids across India as online education is a luxury most can't afford.
With no time frame on when the books will finally reach these girls, their fate hangs in balance. While the administration feels content that the girls are back on the path to education, the grim reality on the ground is starkly different.