Blog by Renu Seth, a Pratham veteran
It has been my long-standing desire to travel to West Champaran in Bihar to visit the Kasturba Vidyalaya in Bhithiharva. This is, one of the KGBVs where Pratham engages with the girls and teachers.
Way back in 1917, when Gandhiji came to Champaran to understand the problems that the indigo farmers were having with the British, an ashram was established in Bhithiharva. It was like a “base camp” for the team. Many of their friends and family from all over India came to help in the Neel Satyagraha. While Gandhiji travelled throughout Champaran visiting farmers, Kasturba stayed mostly in the ashram in Bhithiharva where she worked with local communities to instill hygiene awareness for girls and women, cleanliness in the community, and education for children.
I hope I can visit this Kasturba Vidyalaya soon! However, to deal with my ‘wait period’, we planned video chats on Zoom with the girls. The girls are in grades 6, 7 and 8 in the KGBV at Bhithiharva. Priyanka Kumari, one of the two Pratham Leader Didis in Bihar, organized the first zoom call.
The girls were out sitting in groups, with their teacher and the Pratham Didis – Jyoti and Sushmita. It was four in the afternoon and one could sense the atmosphere of reading with discussion, watching them in the sun through Sushmita’s cell phone!
We decided to ask questions, one question to each group. Here were the kinds of questions put to the girls: What do you like about your village (where you live with your family), what one thing you would like to change in your village if you could, and what do you all like to do on a holiday? Which cities/ places have you visited? How are daughters and sons different in your village? Have you heard/ know of child marriage in your village, in the last year? Have you used smartphones? For what purposes are smartphones used?
Jyoti and Sushmita encouraged the girls in each group to discuss the question and the responses before talking to me. The Didis took the Zoom-call phone from group to group so that the girls could talk to me. This worked well. For some questions, all groups raised their hand, they all wanted to talk to me about the it ll!
Pinky from a village near the Nepal border talked of the need for roads in her village, and that the school is only till grade 5. Education in their villages was not accessible. Roads were difficult. Also, parents did not allow girls to go outside the village. The girls told us that in a couple of villages near Bhithiharva see child marriages still happening. “it has happened in my village", says Manju, a girl from a nearby village. More girls pitched in saying they have heard and seen 14–15-year-old girls get married. If someone tries to explain why early marriages should not happen, the girls said, “the parents say – the girl is our daughter and they do not wish for suggestions." About smartphones, the girls like to listen to music and watch videos! They also use smartphones when the Pratham Didi sent them worksheets during the lockdown and holidays!
The girls want to study more, though they do not know many options of what to study and what they wish to become. With much probing, they came up with teaching, going into the army, and joining the police force. They do want to go to high school and college.
This Kasturba Vidyalaya has provision for girls to study up to grade 10. However, everyone is waiting for the new construction to be completed. The high school is at a short distance, they can manage that part they said, but having a proper place to stay is what parents think is critical to leave their daughters at the KGBV.
The girls love to sing and dance, watch videos and do their hair in different styles on a holiday. This Kasturba Vidyalaya has an enviable team for Kabaddi. The team has won district and state-level Kabaddi matches.
The Pratham Didis learn and help the girls learn well too.
We did not realize that it was 50 minutes of gapshap and though I tried, I could remember only a few names of the girls. It was lovely to see the girls from ages 12 to 14 years. Very naturally the older girls guide and coach those in grade 6. I had a beautiful evening and my desire to visit Bhithiharva in Champaran only got stronger.
Till next time…