Thursday, Apr 21, 2011
‘If they weren't educated, they would have been farmhands'
Rishikesh Bahadur Desai
400 poor girls from Bidar educated in Mangalore
The girls were provided shelter in hostel run by the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel
Carmelite nuns rubbish conversion allegation
Sarojini with her daughters, who were educated in Mangalore, and her sister Putalabai.
Bidar: Jyotsna Raju walks confidently into her classroom at the Carmel Vocational Training Centre here and starts teaching how to speak English without errors. She reads aloud sentences and makes the girls in her class repeat them.
Learning English, however, was not easy for Ms. Jyotsna, B.Ed. graduate. Born into a Dalit family in Shahpur village in Bidar taluk, she was not sure of even completing her SSLC.
Her alcoholic father, Raju Narasing, used to beat her mother, Sarojini, and her four siblings almost every day. He wanted the children to be pulled out of school and sent for work instead.
“My aunt Putalabai, who was a help in a hostel run by the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel in Bidar, came to know about a free hostel for destitute girls in Mangalore. She and my mother thought of sending us there,” Ms. Jyotsna said.
The two women went to Sister Christine Misquith, who heads the Carmel Vocational Training Centre, and pleaded with her to send the children to Mangalore. “We fell at her feet and requested her to send the girls to Mangalore,” Ms. Putalabai said.
The nuns obliged and subsequently, 40 such girls were sent to Mangalore in the first batch in 2001.
Ms. Jyotsna's elder sister, Priya, was in the first batch. Ms. Jyotsna, who was sent in the second, completed her school there. Ms. Jyotsna's younger sisters Jashwini and Shwetha were also sent to Mangalore. Priya, however, died of brain tumour while studying B.Sc.
Jashwini is studying nursing and Shwetha is in II pre-university. She scored 90 per cent in first PU.
“All the girls are good at studies. I am not worried about them any more,” Ms. Sarojini said. Had they not been educated in Mangalore, they would have been cutting grass in fieldsby now.”
Ms. Sarojini started working as a help in a school after her husband died five years ago. Her youngest son, Sachin, attends school in Bidar.
So far, around 400 girls from impoverished families in Bidar district have been educated in Mangalore following the efforts of the Carmelite nuns.
However, their efforts were disrupted recently when some Bajrang Dal activists stormed the Stella Maris hostel in Mangalore alleging conversion.
Civil society leaders have condemned the Bajrang Dal activists. “I don't understand why anyone should stop poor children from getting education,” Karnataka Rajya Madiga Dandora Horata Samiti leader Raju Kadyal said.
“Hundreds of children from rich families from Bidar go to Christian convents in Mangalore for studies every year. Why don't Bajrang Dal members suspect that they too are being converted? Why do they have different rules for the rich and the poor?”
“If schools and hostels run by ‘caste' Hindus in Bidar provide admission to Dalits, why would our children go as far as Mangalore to study?” Dalit leader Vaijanath Suryavanshi asked. He suspects the Bajrang Dal's move was part of a larger conspiracy to keep the impoverished classes away from education.
The Carmelite nuns rubbish the conversion allegation. “Our aim is to work with the poor and the deprived. We have been doing it for 30 years in Bidar and we will continue to do it,” Sr. Misquith said.
Officials in Bidar said no rules were violated in sending the children to hostels in Mangalore. “The girls were sent from Bidar to Mangalore after certifying that they were non-orphan destitute children. The Department of Social Welfare provided each child an educational allowance of Rs. 350 a month,” Deputy Commissioner Sameer Shukla said.
“The process is transparent and valid. If anyone has any issue, he/she should complain to the district administration,” he said.