De­nied ed­u­ca­tion when young, 29 ‘stu­dents’ in pink sa­rees now get a sec­ond chance

New Straits Times - - World - PHANGANE (In­dia)

THEY wear uni­forms, carry satchels and ea­gerly re­cite the al­pha­bet in class, but the stu­dents here are dif­fer­ent — this is a “school for grannies” .

De­prived of an ed­u­ca­tion as chil­dren, the women, most of whom are wid­ows and aged be­tween 60 and 90, are fi­nally ful­fill­ing a life-long dream to be­come literate through this unique ini­tia­tive near Mum­bai.

“I never went to school as a child. It feels great to come now and study with my friends. We have so much fun,” Gu­lab Kedar, 62, said beam­ing with plea­sure. She, along with the rest of the class, wear match­ing pink saris.

The school, which marks its first an­niver­sary on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day to­day, is chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional at­ti­tudes in In­dian vil­lages and help­ing its women shed the stigma of il­lit­er­acy.

Ev­ery day, 29 stu­dents walk from their homes in Phangane vil­lage, in the Thane dis­trict of Ma­ha­rash­tra, to Aa­jibaichi Shala, mean­ing “school for grannies” in the lo­cal Marathi lan­guage.

Grand­chil­dren wave them off, or some­times ac­com­pany them. They proudly carry match­ing satchels, each con­tain­ing a slate, a piece of chalk and a text­book.

From 2pm to 4pm, they sit cross-legged on the floor of the small out­door class­room, which is made from bam­boo, its roof thatched with hay.

Un­der the guid­ance of teacher Shee­tal More, 30, they read and prac­tise writ­ing their names on their slates, two things none of them could do 12 months ago. They also learn ba­sic arith­metic.

The women, many wear­ing ban­gles and elab­o­rate nose rings, all have a sim­i­lar story to tell. As young­sters they stayed at home or worked while their brothers got an ed­u­ca­tion. They mar­ried young and were ex­pected to raise chil­dren and look af­ter the home.

“My sib­lings went to school but I wasn’t given that op­por­tu­nity,” said Jan­abai Da­jikedar, 75. “At the bank, I had to give my thumb print ev­ery time. I felt ashamed. Now, I can proudly sign my name,” she said.

The fa­cil­ity is funded by a lo­cal char­i­ta­ble trust and is the brain­child of Yo­gen­dra Ban­gar, a teacher at Phangane’s pri­mary school for the last three years.

He struck upon the idea last year when some of the women com­plained that they couldn’t take part in pub­lic read­ings dur­ing reli­gious cel­e­bra­tions.

“We wanted to help them. We thought if we could give th­ese grand­moth­ers a fair chance at ed­u­ca­tion and lit­er­acy, then it would make them happy. Their joy at be­ing able to pro­vide a sig­na­ture and read has in­creased their hap­pi­ness,” said Ban­gar, 41.

He said the school, in­clud­ing its colour­ful uni­form, was play­ing an im­por­tant role in fos­ter­ing re­spect for women. He hoped it could be an ex­am­ple to other vil­lages.

“Most of the grand­moth­ers are wid­ows and are meant to wear white to show mourn­ing. We wanted to break this taboo and other older tra­di­tions to make ev­ery per­son feel they are equal and part of the com­mu­nity with­out any dis­crim­i­na­tion, so we chose a pink uni­form,” he said.

All 70 fam­i­lies in the vil­lage sup­port the project and proudly dropped the grand­moth­ers off on their first day of school.

“There was mu­sic and drums, lots of fan­fare. It made us feel spe­cial,” said Kantabai More, 70, who loves it when her grand­chil­dren help her with her home­work.

“We hud­dle to­gether and study, read, write, laugh and share sto­ries. I’m con­tent,” she said.

Grand­mother Savita Desh­mukh (cen­tre), 62, prac­tis­ing her writ­ing dur­ing class at the ‘school for grannies’ in Phangane vil­lage in Ma­ha­rash­tra state’s Thane dis­trict, near Mum­bai.

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