The Optimist Citizen

A new Satyagraha has embarked in Bhitiharwa, Bihar to empower rural girls

Once the milestone of Gandhiji’s first Satyagraha, this school in Bhitiharwa, West Champaran is creating a positive change in the lives of 350 rural girls.

Bhitiharwa, a lesser known village in West Champaran district of the rural belt of Bihar, has an important place in the annals of our history. The village saw the advent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his rise to the pedestal of Mahatma when he started his first Satyagraha in India in 1917. This village, where Kasturba “Ma” (as she was affectionately called), the wife of Mahatma Gandhi, started a school to educate women of the nearby villages about sanitation and hygiene, now has an even better story to tell. A school would have been an obvious guess, but a school that harbours the aspirations of 350 rural girls, making them self-dependent, was a fitting tribute to the gravitas of the village.

Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust
Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust

If the results fascinate you, the hard work behind them would prove to be equally worthwhile.

The thoughts and ideas of veteran independence activist Jay Prakash Narayan had a huge influence on Deependra Vajpayee. By early 2000s, he had his fair share of experience of working against pertinent evils like child marriage, dowry and casteism in Bihar. He was soon working for the displaced; forming communities and organizing protests for the rights of the land. But life took a different turn after his marriage when he moved back to Bhitiharwa. He was appalled to see the dearth of a fully functional school, despite the sufficient space around the old school run by Kasturba Gandhi.

The education of girls was an unaddressed issue when he began working. “When I started, it was both an opportunity and a challenge to start educating the girls. I had this strong belief that girls, especially educated girls can change families. It brings a holistic change in the entire society” he says. It was then that he met Vivek Kumar, who was equally passionate to work for the education of girls, and they teamed up for the cause.

After minor initial falters, they decided to give their idea a proper framework, thereby leading to the formation of Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust. The model of the school curriculum is essentially rooted in the education given in a Government Institution but has a novel twist of its own. The institute is fully functional, where the girls are taught and then they can give exams via Open School program or take independent admissions in neighbouring schools.

Students from the school presenting their exhibits at a Science fair | Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust
Students from the school presenting their exhibits at a Science fair | Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust


Along with the school-based education, the model also focusses on imparting substantial leadership skills and other skills that can provide autonomy to the girls, to make decisions of their lives as they see fit. To imbibe leadership qualities in the children the organisation has adopted the concept of Baal Sansad in the School. This is a participatory committee of students that is involved in deciding how the school should be run. The committee has devised a setup of Baal Bachat Bank to let the girls become economically independent. Each month a student would deposit a small token amount in the bank such that there is sufficient amount stacked when she gears up for her higher education.

“A lot of initial expenses and operations were managed with the seed fund we received from Pravah. We got the necessary equipment like a printer and resources which gave the initial thrust to our mission” recalls Deependra about the Changelooms – Learning and Leadership Journey. Changelooms – Learning and Leadership journey is a yearlong journey that has been implemented by Delhi based organisations Pravah and Commutiny – The Youth Collective is supported by Oracle. The program supports early-stage social entrepreneurs.

To make the school truly a part of the community, the villagers are made active partners of the trust. The committee makes sure that there are regular interactions with the parents and there is a healthy engagement in the community. The framework is an exemplary case of symbiotic-coexistence as the most teachers that come to take classes work voluntarily and the villagers in return contribute food and resources that help the smooth running of the hostel for 20 teachers. Not just this, the scholars and professors from nearby places also visit to chip in and conduct workshops and seminars for students.

Deependra holds a regular community meeting with villagers | Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust
Deependra holds a regular community meeting with villagers | Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust

Vivek in his childhood observed that the girls in school, although less in number, performed really well. Yet, the parents stopped them from going to school and instead saved money for a dowry. He beams with happiness to see the change he and Vivek have been able to create. “I remember a girl Sohi Kumari who hailed from a family with massive financial depredations. She came to us asking if she could join our school because she wanted to study but didn’t have the money to support it. We let her study in the school and she became the top student of the entire block that year. It makes me happy to create this difference in their lives. Moreover, it’s equally heartening to see that now the parents with least or no finances take up the initiative to educate their girls and are focussed on their growth” he says. The number of students resisting child marriage or refusing to marry till they become independent has increased in the past few years, but what makes Deependra the happiest is to see the girls from his school speaking fluent English, making presentations, creating scientific models and even competing with students from premium institutes like DPS and Navodaya.

Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust
Image courtesy: Kasturba Kanya Education and Welfare Trust

And the school has not only taught hundreds of girls, it has also brought a new learning curve in the lives of its founders and he credits the Pravah Changelooms journey for a big part of it. “The journey taught me how to understand the people without prior judgements. How to learn from everyone, even the students you teach. It was in this journey that I learnt about organization and team building.”

The journey still has a long way to go, as the duo mention their desires to set up quality labs for computer and science, and gather adequate resources for infrastructure. However, when asked what they expect from readers – funds and resources did not top the list. “There’s a community we work with. It is necessary to understand them, their internal inertia, aspirations and aims” says Deependra. Without mincing with words he says that “for anyone who wishes to associate with us, we would love if they could first experience what we do”.

If you would talk to Depeendra, understand the aspirations of young rural girls fighting hard to change many lives and maybe support them in some form, you can contact them here.

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