Day 9: Jodhpur, Rajasthan

March 7, 2006

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

We stopped at the Jodhpur office of UNNATI, an organization that works in civic leadership, governance, and social inclusion and empowerment, this morning. It was refreshing to work with an organization run primarily by women; we were especially glad to use their toilet. (On this leg of the trip, we were introduced by Jayeshbhai as “John and the char ben” (four women) – all of us had something nice to say about the UNNATI office toilet.)

Shampa Batabyal, Baruna Dutta, and Tora Saikia arranged for us to go to a school funded by the Central government (Rs. 100/student/month) and an organization that UNNATI supports – a school primarily for working children rescued from the stone quarries around Jodhpur. The local NGO is called Jai Bheem Vikas Shikshan Sansthan Shergarh. The school is Bal Shemic Vishesh School in Dhabbu Basti, Pratab Nagar.

We had to park our bus and trucks on the main road because they would not make it down the lane leading to the school. A little boy on a bicycle asks: “Are you coming to my school?” When Baruna says “Yes”, he races ahead to tell everyone in the community that we are coming. Along the way, he yells to two small children working to clear debris: “Don’t be afraid, they are not coming to catch you!”

Climbing Steps to Slum School in Jodhpur

The school is located up on the side of a hill, and most of us are breathing hard by the time we climb all the steps. There are a handful of children and three teachers when we enter the classroom, made entirely of stone. More and more children rush in and many of the adults in the community also come and sit in the back. Two children, a boy and a girl, are made to sing for us. They stand in front, facing the children, with their arms at attention, as most kids are made to stand whenever they address anyone. Then another girl is made to join the two, the boy having to be dragged up again after he had already sat in his appointed place.

Students at Slum School in Jodhpur

After our introduction and two interactive songs that Maria leads for the children, we ask the other adults to leave. We would have loved to ask the teachers to leave as well, particularly the head teacher, who never had a soft word to say to any of the children, but let them stay based on our experience in Keetha Village. We also let the “peon”, a young woman with a child in the school, stay as well. (The students’ primary instinct when around any of the teachers is to duck to avoid a cuff on the head, usually for no reason at all.)

More and more kids came in, one or two at a time. We were told that there were 30 “students” in the school, but by the end of our session, we had close to 40 kids in the room. Attempts to interview two children separately failed because there was always too much background noise, and at least one adult on hand to tell the kids what to say. We invariably have to insist that smaller children be allowed to participate because the teachers claim that they don’t know anything, and should not even be given a piece of paper, let alone crayons.

We left the kids after another song, and had the entire class walk us to the bus. We drove off to cheers and waves and that one kid running after us until we disappeared from sight. As we were walking down the steps of the school, Loveleen overheard one of the adults say: “What happened to these kids today? They got too much freedom.”

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