As she looked out of the window,
Her eyes glimmered with dreams,
Dreams, which were known only to her pillow.
Those dreams were her treasure
Hidden in some corner of her heart,
The strength of which none could measure,
But these dreams were also what broke her apart.
In a constant struggle of the heart and the mind,
Of what’s possible and what’s not
It was her dreams that she confined.
Such is the plight of many girls living in India even today who have to let go of their dreams even before they have set one. These girls are subjected to a lot of gender inequality and disparity in the society even today. Some are denied basic elementary education as well as proper living conditions or even the care and love of a family. Even though a lot of change has been directed towards women empowerment and education in India lately but still, a lot has to be done.
I am a travel blogger and recently I returned from a wonderful trip to Rajasthan. It was while wayfaring across Udaipur that I discovered this beautiful residential school run by an NGO which is presently a home to 60 tribal girls from the farthest and remotest reaches of Rajasthan. These girls are either orphans, semi-orphans or abandoned by their families. A system called the ‘Naata Pratha’ is prevalent in these tribal regions, under which the mother of these children can at any point of time decide they no longer want to continue living with their families and head out with a different lover.
What is Naata system?
Naata Pratha, as it is known in Rajasthan was a measure taken in the early times to safeguard the child brides who were married off to older or abusive men. After the death of the old spouses or under other circumstances these women were allowed to leave their existing or deceased husband’s families for a better life in lieu of a price that was paid by the second families to the first. But in due course of time, the Naata Pratha started being misused and people also started selling off their wives in lieu of money. It is believed that under the Naata system there is no requirement of an expensive celebration to mark the second matrimony of the woman. Therefore these women do not need to be married to move in with another man. The brutal reality of this system, though, is the fact that the women aren’t allowed to take their children along with them.
How does Naata System affect the future of the children?
Some women may leave their spouses voluntarily and some are forced to remarry just so that the husband can make money out of the deal. But whatever be the reason of women leaving their families under the Naata Pratha, it’s the children who are affected the most as the woman under the Naata Pratha cannot take her children along. These children bear the brunt of such a system as they are not considered fully as orphans by the Government as well as in society have no claim over getting a maintenance allowance from their mother’s new families or over the mother’s new husband’s property or wealth. Therefore these children are many a times left to fend for themselves and may live an abandoned life.
About Balika Awasiya Vidyalaya, Rajasthan Bal Kalyan Samiti.
Balika Awasiya Vidyalaya is a residential school run by the Rajasthan Bal Kalyan Samiti at Dewali in Udaipur. This institution is also backed by the Sarla Foundation and in Udaipur is headed by Ms. Nitu Singh.
This initiative is aimed at providing education and better-living conditions to girls of the remotest areas of Rajasthan who are either victim of the Naata Pratha, are semi-orphans and cannot be taken care of by their families or are orphans. At present this school cum hostel is home to 60 tribal girls from interiors of Rajasthan.
The drivers of such a change made this happen only after visiting many villages and bringing girls from these regions to this establishment just to give them a better life. Initially, the numbers were low but as people started understanding their objectives a ripple effect was created and more and more girls started coming here for a better life.
The girls are provided education till Standard fifth within these premises and once they clear the Standard fifth examination, their admission into a bigger school and the expenses are all taken care of by the institution.
These children are given clean and hygienic food, clothes and uniform and provided with the necessary books and stationery. The older girls live in the Hansraj Hostel within the premises and pursue higher education in other Government schools outside.
The school has 4 lady teachers out of which, one of them is also the warden and caretaker of the hostel. There are 3 staff members who cook food for the children living within the premises. The girls are taught to be self-sufficient and also help in the daily chores apart from their regular studies and co-curricular activities. The children are encouraged to exercise and play games such as hockey, kho kho et al. The girls are also taught drawing and craft, though there are no dedicated teachers to help with that.
The property where the school is located is a rented one and was under renovation when I visited. The inflow of the girls has been large in the last couple of years and sometimes space becomes a constraint for the institution. However, the warden boasts about the numerous girls who have made a successful career out of the help and support received from here.
What touched me about this school?
On an evening stroll across the lanes of Udaipur, I found this lovely school bustling with the chatter of girls who were busy cleaning their school campus. Almost everyone had a broom or mop in their hands and smile on their faces. They were busy cleaning the place that had given them a whole new life.
As I entered, a lot of surprised faces turned towards me and within a jiffy all I could see was their welcoming smile that was so infectious that I couldn’t help feel overwhelmed with joy. I was greeted with a long “Helllllllooooo Miss” and my heart just melted away at their innocent faces and wholehearted welcome.
I had a word with the warden, Mrs. Sarika Bhatt, regarding the details of the school and on knowing the plight of these children who are struck by such issues most of us wouldn’t even know about, I decided I wanted to do something (whatever little it may be) for them just to bring a smile on their faces.
Those sixty minutes that I spent with these children were one of the best moments of my life. I had read somewhere, whenever life seems all difficult and strenuous, sit with a child and surely your perspective towards life’s challenges would change.
We talked about studies, their hobbies and above all their dreams and ambitions in life. Most of these amazing kids wanted to be teachers or doctors. On being asked why did they want to be only doctors or teachers, they answered that they just want to help other people once they grow up. You see the sense of serving one’s society or mankind comes so easy to a child. Didn’t we also dream of things like that when we were kids? Didn’t we believe that we were also superheroes who could fight crime and help people? What happened then? Did we all get so caught up in the rat race of excelling in every field and grabbing that highest placement package or appraisal, that we started believing only money could make us happier in life?
I went back in the morning with a bag full of stationery and friendship bands for those sixty girls. The joy that their faces reflected when they saw me again the other day was inexplicable. I was lucky to sit through their morning assembly routine and these kids just bowled me over with their amazing sense of discipline and singing skills. These kids know how to love selflessly without expecting a thing in return. They are happy and content with whatever little they have. They just have dreams, no big no small, just dreams. They want to bring about a change in the society and have no fear. They do not for once doubt their dreams; it is only when circumstances and societal pressure deter their beliefs in themselves that these dreams remain unfulfilled.
I dream of a day in my country when every girl child is encouraged to dream high. I want to see the girls of my country aim for the highest and attain it. I dream of a day when marriage is no longer what a woman’s existence culminates into but a support system filled with love and companionship. I dream of a day when a girl no longer needs to hear that her education and dreams are superficial and actually not required. I dream of a day when every girl realizes that she is cut to fulfill a purpose in life and there is nothing that she can’t achieve. I dream of a day when a girl is not referred to as a ‘Paraya Dhan’ (someone else’s property) in the society. And I dream of a day when a girl does not just tell her dreams to her pillow but has the courage and support to fight for it.
We are all traveling in this life, some for business, some for pleasure, some for stories and some for passion. Have you thought for a while to stop and bring a smile to someone’s face that is less fortunate than you? I urge you all travelers to take some time out and lend a hand to a person who needs it more than anyone else. Go volunteer for a cause that touches the chords of your heart or simply spend some time with people or even animals who want nothing but love. Have you volunteered for a cause while you were traveling? Let me know in the comments about your volunteering experiences.
If you wish to donate or volunteer for this school then click here for further details on the NGO and its volunteering opportunities. You may also simply walk up to this school located very close to the Fateh Sagar Lake in Udaipur, and spend some time with the lovely children after their school hours. If you have problems locating this school, connect with me, I shall help you to connect the dots.
Please watch this small movie dedicated to the innocence that these children are filled with and the amount of selfless love they can shower on you. Let us all be the change we want to see in this world. Until then keep traveling and keep making the world a better place.