According to the Right To Education Act 2009, every child from the age of six to fourteen years has the right to free education in India, till the completion of class 8. The law also states that no fee or charges shall deny a child from admission to a school. However, census 2011 figures revealed that with the illiteracy rate of Bihar at 61.80% making it the most illiterate state in India. Out of 104 million population in Bihar, only 52 million people above seven years of age can read or write.
According to the figures of UNESCO, with 287 million illiterates, India has the largest uneducated population in the world.
However, a woman from Hazipur decided to reduce the illiteracy rate in Bihar. The Logical Indian spoke to Sarita Rai who is providing free education in the slums of Hazipur.
People’s perspective about Bihar in other states
Hailing from Daudnagar, Hazipur, Sarita Rai, a law graduate from Patna University, spent most of her childhood in North-East. Her father was a forest officer. As it was a transferable job, Sarita would shift to different cities in North-eastern states. In every new town, she would tell her friends about her native land, Bihar. Most of the kids’ parents would ask the children to stay away from her as she is from Bihar. For many years Sarita could not find the reason behind the differences. However, she knew there existed a stereotype against Biharis.
The incident that changed Sarita
In 1990, when Sarita was in 4th grade, she was visiting her native village, Daudnagar when she saw that villagers had tied a middle-aged man and were beating him mercilessly. “Someone told me that this man was caught while stealing a bicycle. When I spoke to the alleged thief, I came to know that he was in need of money to feed his family,” Sarita told The Logical Indian. Enraged by the mob’s treatment to the alleged thief, she tied the rope around her neck and warned everyone that if they do not spare him, she will kill herself. Sarita’s protest caused the villagers to free the thief.
“I was infuriated by seeing a man brutally beaten for just stealing a cycle. The incident provoked me that I will always stand against the wrong and work for human rights,” said Sarita.
Sarita got married to a lawyer in the year 2003 and lived as a housewife for a year. She had offers to work in reputed companies as a legal consultant, but she rejected the offer to fulfil her dream of making Bihar the state with the highest literacy rate in India.
In 2004, Sarita decided to give wings to her vision. She began giving free coaching to children in slum areas who could not afford education in schools. Sarita began free coaching to 11 children. A girl named Sima was her first student. She wanted to be a teacher. Sarita also taught English to some children who knew how to read and write. She also teaches basic lessons like counting, alphabets, language, and social subjects like cleanliness, health, food, civic awareness. In the early years of her work, Sarita would only teach children below ten years of age.
Soon, her hard work started paying off and she planned to open a centre in Yusufpur in Hazipur district. To run her institute, Sarita did not want to depend on her family and borrowed furniture from her friends for running the centre. In a span of three years, the strength of the institute rose to 150 students. In 2009, she found Topper Study Point (Udaan). As her school runs for more than 5 hours, Sarita would cook meals for unprivileged students at her home to ensure that they get nutrition for their physical and mental growth. Students who focused on studies would get chips and chocolates as a reward.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Sarita said, “Convincing unprivileged students for studying was never a mammoth task as they were already working as labourers or rag pickers to feed their families. Nowadays, a lot of children, who start working in early years of growing, tend to get addicted to smoking and drugs. I would ask them to share their daily habits and experience. When we get along well, I asked them to study, and a lot of them proved to be good students.”
For Sarita, convincing parents was more laborious than their children. Many parents had protested that she is exploiting their children by taking her to the institute as there were many girls who were forced to marry in their early age, but they denied and chose to study. Boys who work to feed their families left their work and developed an interest in studies.
In 2008, Topper Study Point had become a learning point for children of all age groups. In 2014, Sarita registered the institute as Topper Study Point Udaan under Societies Act regulations to pursue her initiative in a non-profit structure. Till now, Topper Study Point teaches 200 students free of cost. Sarita says, “It is such a proud feeling that some children who could not write their names a few years ago, can now speak English. They calculate expenses of their parents to manage savings at home”.
“One of my students, who was a drug addict at a very young age, had quit the habit and now did engineering from a recognised college in Bihar. I had left three good paying jobs in the span of five years because I wanted to focus on my initiative to educate children who could afford to go to school,” says Sarita.
Her family would ask her to think about her life – that she is an educated woman who can enjoy luxuries at home, why put efforts in slums? However, now, her family believes that Sarita is going to bring about a change.
An RTE activist
It is mandatory for recognised schools to reserve 25% seats for students below the poverty line. Till now, Sarita has enrolled 50 such children. She is making efforts to approach many schools in Hazipur District to ensure that maximum children, who cannot afford primary education, get enrolled in these schools.
Life lessons to minors in juvenile jail
Sarita is one of the few women who strive hard to change our society to better. She took the initiative to reform juvenile delinquents when she joined Bihar Government in Samastipur district as a legal probationary officer. As part of her duty, she meets inmates at District Juvenile Jail in Samistipur to record their behavioural improvements. Sarita told The Logical Indian, “I love this job as I get an opportunity to speak to juvenile jail inmates spending their term in prison. These minors are our future. I share some life lessons with them to improve them as human beings. So, when they complete their imprisonment they can lead a decent life and contribute to changing the image of our state”.
The Logical Indian salutes Sarita Rai who is selflessly working in the slums of Bihar to deliver primary education to the children who cannot afford school. Education would help them to lead a decent and respectful life. Her efforts to educate juveniles imprisoned in jails life lessons is a commendable deed.
Also published on Medium.