Varanasi Boat School – An Ideal Learning Environment for Street Children

varanasi boat school, boat school in varanasi

Boat school! In India? How does it look like? How does it work? Questions thronged my mind when I first heard about the Varanasi Boat School. But when I watched this video on the website of Do Right, I started believing in it. See how smile and hope brighten their faces when asked what they are learning in this boat school. However, before we learn more about the boat school in Varanasi let’s take a look at the present scenario regarding education in India. Perhaps it will help us understand the need for more such schools across the country and how such efforts can make a difference.

Education is the guiding light in the darkness of ignorance. It improves our thought process and helps us to think independently without coming under the influence of any social taboos, beliefs and religious and political pressure. The first step to education is literacy. Technically, literacy means functional literacy; knowing 3Rs – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (basic level).

Unfortunately, India has the largest illiterate population (287 million) on earth according to United Nation’s latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report. The number almost equals the entire population of the USA.

After the enactment of Children’s Right to Free Education Act in 2009, Indian government took up various literacy programmes under the supervision of NLMA (National Literacy Mission Authority). The subsequent 2011 census report says the national literacy rate has grown to 74% (Male – 82%, Female – 65%) while the global rate being 84%.

Another disturbing fact is that India, despite having a large percentage of young population, stands 112th on Global Child Development Index 2012 (based on Education, Health and Nutrition rate among children). The rank dropped from a previous 103rd position in 2004.

The above stats are alarming! Lack of education is, perhaps, the biggest challenge in India at present.

Lack of education -> ignorance -> unprotected sex -> overpopulation -> poverty -> malnutrition, unemployment -> increasing crime rate

It seems like a chain reaction the root cause of which is ‘illiteracy’. Many poor families are reluctant in sending their children to school. Instead they would put them into work and make them earn for the family. This is the most painful thing to see children begging for alms on the street or child labourers who have sacrificed their childhood too early.

Therefore, free education for poor children is the need of the hour.

Perhaps it is a mammoth task for the government to improve educational infrastructure so that basic education can be provided for free to every child in the lower strata of the society and ensure a better life for them. The government is working although the success rate might not be satisfactory. But should we just blame it on the government and sit back thinking it’s not my problem? Or is giving alms to street children the solution?

Can’t we, the common people do anything to make a difference for our under privileged children? Yes, we can.

More private efforts and initiatives are needed to make India a better place. Varanasi Boat School is a unique endeavour by Mr Ajeet Singh and his NGO ‘Guria’.  This innovative educational campaign has been named as – Do Right. This novel initiative is taken for a noble cause – to inspire underprivileged kids in learning and education and create an environment where learning will be fun for them.

Now you might think, “Why Varanasi and not any other place”? Well, the journey of doing right is not limited within the periphery of Varanasi. Do Right has started its journey from the Rann of Kutch. After that they have worked for the street children in Pune. Now they have reached Varanasi, the cultural heart of India with an aim to create an ideal learning environment for the city’s street children. If this learning model is successfully implemented in Varanasi it can be developed in other parts of the country in future.

Started in a small scale with small investment Varanasi Boat School has already proved that it has a lot of potential. But a magical transformation is needed to perform in its full potential. The school needs renovation and expansion with larger space and more books, toys and painting kits, which is beyond the capacity of individual effort.

How you can make a difference by doing the right

More funds are required to do the right for these children – to retain the smile that Do Right has brought on their innocent faces. You can help this campaign grow and succeed by donating any amount you want. You can also inspire your friends and acquaintances in donating for Do Right and create awareness for this noble cause by spreading the message in your social networks. Please visit www.doright.in for more details about the campaign.

If you are still not confident that a small contribution can make a difference I would like to share something with you.

make a difference, varanasi boat school, do right

#ToiletForBabli – A click for a cleaner and safer India

#ToiletforBabli - Make India open defecation free

Twenty years back, we were travelling to Puri by train. It was an overnight journey from Kolkata to Puri. The sun was already up in the sky when our train crossed Odisha border. I was looking outside sitting by the window with my father by my side. There were row of trees and wide-open paddy fields on both side of rail track. Suddenly, I saw some men (local villagers) sitting on their heels along the slopes by the rail track. It didn’t take me, a mere schoolgirl, much time to understand what was going on. I was completely shocked at the sight. How can they do this in the open? It automatically came out of my mouth, “Baba, ora ekhane ki korchhe?” (What are they doing here, daddy?). My father replied, “Don’t look there.” … and he shut the window. That was the first time I saw people defecating in open. However, the joy of seeing the sea was more than enough to override the bad feeling in my tender mind.

60% of people practicing open defecation in the world lives in India … a shocking fact

A few months earlier, reading the news that “60% of people defecating in the open in world live in India” triggered a flashback. According to a joint monitoring report by World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF a total of 626 million people in India practise open defecation. It is so unfortunate that the picture, I saw as a child, has not changed in 20 long years. Perhaps the government also reacted the same way my father did 20 years back. When you have a serious problem and you don’t know where or how to start to solve it pretending not to see it is the ‘best’ way to get rid of it.

It is even more shocking that women in the villages are bound to practice open defecation due to lack of toilets in the household. In a country like India where woman’s dignity is most important in the family… where married women don’t even have permission to take off their veils in front of other men – how this kind of act, which is disgraceful for a civilized society, can be practiced even in 21st century? The thought surprises me. Such paradox can only exist in India!

Open defecation is a deep-rooted social problem in India

Open defecation in rural areas is a deep-rooted social problem in India. Government report says ‘poverty’ is the reason behind it. But I doubt is it poverty all the time? Not lack of education? Not lack of infrastructure? When our Bunty (the name symbolizes young boys in the villages) doesn’t get the basic sanitation and health facilities who is going to think about Babli (representing all your girls in rural India)?  After all, women are still treated as second-class citizen in many parts of the country.

I can relate to Babli’s problem and it’s my duty to speak for her

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. During hours of long drive from one city to another answering to Nature’s Call was like an ordeal. A proper toilet is rare to see by the roads. We had to wait until we found a restaurant where we could expect at least a toilet, even if it was not well maintained. But there were times when we had to surrender to natural instinct. That’s when I realized how dangerous ‘open-defecation’ could be, leave alone the matter of shame and indignity for a woman. I experienced this only twice or thrice in my life. When I think of Babli, rather millions of Bablis in India going through this woe on a daily basis it disturbs me deeply.

When I came to know about #ToiletforBabli campaign via IndiBlogger Happy Hour I instantly decided to write a post addressing the issue. I believe as an educated citizen of the country and being a woman I can do this much for Babli.

Why we badly need private and safe toilet for Babli

Most of time women seek deserted places or bushes for privacy which may turn out to be fatal for them. The dangers of open defecation for Babli and other children are many.

  • She can die from snakebite
  • She can develop urinary infection which is contagious
  • She can develop deadly diseases such as diarrhea, intestinal worm infections, typhoid and cholera (Every year more than 200,000 children die from diarrhea – source: Forbes India Blog)
  • She can be molested, raped and even killed due to lack of personal safety (We all read about Badaun rape case recently. In addition, BBC report says – “according to police and social activists most of the cases of rape of women and girls in states like Bihar occur when they go out to defecate in the open…”)

Reasons behind open defecation

If we delve deeper we will see that the reason behind lack of sanitation and private toilet at village households is not always due to poverty.

#1 Scarcity of water in remote areas – When you don’t have sufficient water supply at home will you not avoid making a latrine inside the house?

#2 Religious beliefs – I have heard from my mother that in her ancestral home the latrine was at least 15-20 yards away from the main residence. Why? They worshipped their ‘Kula Devta’ (ancestral god) in the house; hence “dirty” things like toilets were built away from the house.

#3 Lack of education – The last but most important of all is ignorance – absence of education and awareness. It’s not that the entire rural India lives in poverty. Yet according to UN report 626 million people in India miss sanitation and hygiene. Why? Nearly 50% of Indian population lacks education. Unless you are taught about hygiene (as we were in schools) how those who have practiced open defecation for ages, will suddenly realize the need for sanitation and private toilet?

Education and awareness is the key

Education and health awareness programmes are a priority if we want to save Babli from this misery. Though this is the duty of our government they, unfortunately, took so long to wake up. There are instances of successful sanitization campaigns such as Nandigram II block, West Bengal; Nirmal Gram, Gujarat and ‘Balmiki’ in Maharashtra. Well… better late than never! At least, Modi Ji has the courage to say “toilets before temples”, which no other PM have shown in recent times. So we can expect more activities from the administration.

#ToiletforBabli – a campaign to make India open defecation free

Currently, with over half a billion people defecating out in the open every day the situation is darn grave in India. It may not be possible for the government to handle the crisis alone. There lies the need for private initiatives to make India open defecation free. And Hindustan Uni Lever’s (HUL) sanitization brand Domex is doing this job successfully for a year now with its Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. The objective of the programme is to make private toilet accessible in the villages and spread awareness about the benefits of sanitary toilet in the household.

#ToiletforBabli - Make India open defecation free
#ToiletforBabli – Click for Cleaner and Safer India

Domex #ToiletforBabli is a unique online campaign (launched as part of DTA programme) through which you can also take part and show your support in this initiative. Visit www.domexforsanitation.com and click the button “Contribute Now”. For every single click Domex will contribute 5 rupees to Domex Toilet Academy fund for eradication of open defecation in India.

So, it’s just a matter of a single mouse-click. I have done my part. Now it is your turn to help Babli get a healthy lifestyle and live with dignity. You can also share the page in your network and invite your friends to take part in this endeavour.

Let’s join hands together for a cleaner, healthier and safer India.

Delhi gang rape case: It’s time to wake up … everyone

Another year has come with new message, new hope and new possibilities. But it is not the joy of New Year that impelled me to take up my pen. It’s the pathetic suffering and unfortunate death of ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘Damini’ whatever you call the 23-year old Delhi paramedic has left me in deep thought. What a society we are living in?

I would not salute her “sacrifice” because she did not choose to be tortured. I salute her brave heart because she wanted to live and fight.

I can not describe the feeling after reading the horrific story in detail about what was happened to her – it was shock, it was pain, it was fear, it was hatred, it was despair! It feels so bad that we could not bring her back to life. But the only ray of hope in this case was the COLLECTIVE NON-VIOLENT YET STRONG PROTEST OF COMMON PEOPLE irrespective of gender, age, status, profession, language and religion. Hope this is the beginning of the much needed CHANGE.

Yes, a thorough socio-psychological REFORM is needed to reduce crime against women. Death penalty is not the only solution.

Whenever a sexual assault or similar kind of crime happens against women I have seen many so called “educated” people pointing at the woman’s character. WHY? This is because it’s easier to do than to judge, stand up and protest. My appeal to them is – please stop thinking just like a MAN or a WOMAN, think like a HUMAN. The moment you raise your finger at the woman – Why she? What was she doing there? What is her background? – you actually encourage the criminal. And if she is a divorcee, if she lives alone, if she goes to the bar, if she returns late at night … things become even easier ( like in Park Street Rape Case). As if men have right to rape or do anything they want with a woman with such lifestyle!

Instead of protesting against a crime you are criticizing the victim even though you know deep in your mind that a “CRIME” has been committed.  If such criminals get away with what they have done there are chances they will repeat it. It can also encourage some other criminal minded people to try things like this. And this time it could be your dear one – your sister, your wife, your daughter.

Every time such heinous crime happens our “educated” and “respected” political leaders create controversies with comments that the way women dress up is the reason for such incidents and wash their hands off from any responsibilities. What the hell? My question is did “Nirbhaya” or other thousands of rape/molestation victims from ordinary middle class, poor families in city or in village dress scantily or provocatively? Or even if they do, does it justify such crime in an educated, advancing society? Then such incidents would be in highest number in Europe and America. But in concrete the scenario is actually opposite.

I know some people would restrict their daughters, sisters and wives to go outside or return late at night, or dressing up as they like. But that is never a solution. If it was, the TALIBAN REGIME would be the best place to live. They would have built up the most disciplined and safest society.

And can you guarantee that women are safe at home? NO, because… Dombivali rape case where father and brother arrested for raping a teenage girl is unfortunately nothing new.

And MEN if you ask your sister, your wife, your daughter or your female friends you’ll rarely find one who has not experienced stalking, teasing or minor sexual harassment especially in their teens.

So, it’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop blaming the victim when a ‘rape’ occurs. It’s time to stop make them feel that what happened to them was their fault. It’s time to teach our boys to take girls as human beings and not just a ‘woman’. And say NO to such perversion.

I am not sure if such evils can be completely eliminated from our society. From government’s part stricter law, prompt judicial action and harsher penalty in such cases is required.

But I believe education in grass root level, more coeducation schools, honest initiative from elders and teachers to stop discrimination between boys and girls, encourage friendly interactions between young boys and girls from the very beginning and of course teaching girls to protect themselves can reduce occurrence of atrocities against women.  It is better to heal the wound from within than keep it covered for protection.

Shah Rukh Vs Shiv Sena – You can’t win this time Mr. Thackeray

Mumbai saw something unusual on Saturday, 6th February as Thackeray’s Shiv Sena backed off from its stance of ‘disrupting the screening’ of My Name is Khan. Well… my friends, don’t think I am trying to express my political view here. I never thought of giving my blog a political direction as I hate politics very much. But since it relates to cricket, my favorite sport, and Shah Rukh one of my favorite Bollywood stars I couldn’t refrain myself from pouring out what’s on my mind.

King Khan has become the target of the Senas since the actor opened his mouth against the ban of Pak players from IPL-3.  As we all know, Pakistan is the defending T-20 champion. So there can’t be any valid reason for barring them from playing in IPL.

In a democracy like India’s everyone has the right to express his/her personal view, provided it does not harm national integrity and interest. As King Khan has said, “it is humiliating” for the IPL authority (though they think differently), I feel the same way. It’s really a shame for a million dollar cricket tournament like the IPL where no players from the T-20 world champion team is present. (I think Mr. Modi being a newbie in the politics played a petty game of politics with IPL auction … never thought it could be a boomerang on him!)

What King Khan did is that he voiced the question of millions of cricket lovers across the globe. Even though India-Pakistan cricket often creates much furor there’s no denying that cricket is only one game that can bring the two nations closer. What amused me is that the Shiv Sena is suddenly singing in a different tune – “though it ideologically opposes Shah Rukh’s taking up the cause of including Pakistani players in IPL teams, but wouldn’t disrupt the screening of My Name is Khan”. Thanks for being so ‘generous’, Mr. Thackeray!

However, I don’t really understand the reason behind it. Is it Shah Rukh’s diplomacy that he wants to sort out the matter sitting with the Sena Supremo? Or is it that Thackerays are feeling the heat finding the whole nation is with King Khan.? After Sena’s plan to stop Rahul Gandhi from doing the political meeting in its den completely went flop Thackerays are on back foot.  Whatever the reason might be it is good for both, them and us that they leave their ‘religion’ of violence and atrocity and walk the path of peace and diplomacy. After all, WORDS are mightier than SWORD!