Poonam Verma is a social worker and hails from the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. She is associated with the ‘Save the Children’ organization.
There was a family in which a widow was living with her five girls and a boy. The woman’s husband and in-laws had passed away. She was making a living by making mangalsutra and had no idea about the outside world.
She thought private school would be expensive now that everyone has passed away in her family, and all the responsibilities are on her head. Therefore, unable to pay the private school’s high fee, she decided to enrol her children in a government school. She went to the previous school to get the Transfer Certificate (TC) but the principal asked her to deposit Rs 25000/- for the TC.
After understanding her case, I made a video. Instead of giving written applications, unless the situation is shown to the authorities in a video format, the work is not done.
After making the video, I wrote an application and together with that woman we met the District Collector. 20000/- was waived off out of 25000/- and we deposited the 5000/- and took the TC. Then under the Right to Education Act, I got the two children of that woman admission in the school. After this, I also connected the woman to the nutrition scheme which looks after the upbringing of the children and gives 1000/- for every child till the age of 18 years.
Another case is that of Arampura, which is a village of Dalit people and there is no school in that village. There is supposed to be an Anganwadi for a population of 1000 people and a primary school for 200-250 children.
To get a school built, we, along with the villagers, talked to the officials in 2018 but no action was taken. The Sarpanch did not cooperate as the issue was of Dalit society. He asked us to give our concerns in writing, which we did, but nothing happened. I am still morose for not getting this work done.
It is said that there have been many changes in the education system, but even today, if we look at the condition of government schools, there is a school running under a tree for the children of the Dalit community, where girls do not even have the facility to go to the toilet.
There are toilets in schools but there is no water, no soap, and no doors. Girls still go in the open. I am going to take action in this regard by meeting the District Officer and Education Officer.
Now the schools are reopening after the lockdown, so I want that either the school building should be repaired or new halls should be built by the government. The budget allocated for education must be used.
When there is no place to sit, where will the children study? When there are no toilets and water facilities, why would children prefer to come to school?
In 2018, there was a family from the Valmiki Samaj and the man was trying for a long time for Indira Awas which is a scheme under PMYK.
The family appealed to the Sarpanch but no action was taken. I met the affected man and when I saw the condition of his house, it was really pathetic.
The front of the house was full of water, the walls were broken, and there was no place to sit.
There were 5-6 children and an old father in that family. I made a video of him and met with the Sarpanch. After that, in the village campaign (where all kinds of papers and certificates are made), I got his papers made and then he the man got the Indira Awas.
In one case, there was a woman who did not know that a file has to be filled in order to formally get electricity. No one gave her advice. Somebody said that everyone has put a light on by putting a wire, you should also do it that way. Often, people do this in the villages but it is illegal. Someone also got that woman such a connection by saying that where will you go for the connection, you do not even have money.
Then in April this year, when the team from the Electricity Department came to the village, the woman’s electricity bill was made up to be 22860/-. Then that woman came to us and started crying that Didi, I did not even know anything about it, the villagers put it up for me, I cannot even climb on the roof.
The officers have said that you either pay the fine or go to jail.
Then I met an advocate, wrote an application, went to the electricity department and after much effort there, we met the EC who understood the situation of the woman. He listened very patiently and after knowing the whole situation, he fixed the bill to be 8460/- which we filled there. Then we prepared the file for the woman for the electricity connection, which is currently being processed.
Save The Children
Once I was working at a Child Helpline centre where we used to inform the people and the children about the POCSO Act, their rights, and the ill effects of child marriage. We also used to do open house sessions and outreach. Once, there was a case of child marriage.
A 16-year-old girl was getting married and the girl raised her voice against it.
We spoke to the DM and SDM but got threatened that if we will speak up, we might get jailed. The girl’s mother asked us who are we to decide for her girl, that she will marry the child whenever she will like, it is her right and not ours. That she has gotten the information about child marriage but she will go ahead with it anyway.
It is a custom in Rajasthan to marry the elder along with the younger. For example, if a girl is 18 years old and one is 16-17 years old, then due to dowry and financial constraints, both of them get married at once.
This happens in secret but the administration knows about it but they get bribed. So, finally, we could not help that girl.
In another case, a 16-year-old girl was raped and the perpetrators threw the girl in front of her house. The girl’s mother bathed her and washed her clothes, which she should not have done.
When the girl was medically examined, all the evidence was destroyed and we could not get the girl justice. We tried a lot, got interviews done in the media, and got her introduced to the SP, but even then we could not prove that she was raped. The girl did three medical tests but we did not get success in the case. The girl was concerned that now no one will marry her.
The main challenges remain that some officers discriminate on the basis of caste. Some even misuse their political power. Sometimes, when we go to help the community, the people say, yes we are with you, but when we go in front of the officers, people do not want to speak up there. It remains a big challenge that if people will not support us, then we will only get disappointed.
Secondly, every parent should think that their daughter should marry only after the age of 21 (which is the age fixed by the government) and should teach their girls skills which are useful in life. Because if girls have skills, then they can earn their livelihood.
Be it a son or a daughter, give good education to both, give good health, and give a good upbringing to both of them.
Note: This article is based on the interview between Poonam Verma and Preeti Nangal and has been edited for coherence. This article is part of the Tête-à-Tête series, which covers the lives, challenges, and achievements of NCWL grassroots workers. Click here to read this article in Hindi. The rest of the series can be accessed here and on our social media handles (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).