It was just another vocational day at, The Pink Foundation. There were about 35 kids, giggling and sharing their stories with with full passion and love. All of a sudden, the training room owner barged in and disrupted the fun-filled session by his ignorant behavior.
“I don’t want to do anything for these kids so don’t use my room from now on,” said the arrogant owner.
His behavior has been the same for many days and later on, he would come to apologize for his out-of-control conduct. And that day our Co-Founder Harmeet was there and she got shock of her life.
“Even I don’t wish to teach my kids in a place where a person like you reside,” She firmly said.
Nevertheless, she unpinned the NGO banner from the wall and went off searching for a new place.
She talked to many people to ask for a place to rent for the kids but to her utter surprise, some denied because they would be disturbed by kids’ loud voices (read Noises) on a lazy Sunday afternoon and the others asked for ridiculous amount of money each month.
She was upset.
The kids got worried thinking what if Didi wouldn’t carry on these sessions anymore? So they took the initiative and started inquiring about the places on rent. She saw eagerness in their eyes to learn more and extract additional knowledge from us. So she assured them about continuing the classes as soon as we find a place.
Fortunately, a lady who belonged to a caste which owns lots of cows and buffaloes, and sells milk for their living (we don't want to name the caste) rented us her verandah at a reasonable price. It was a fair deal so we grabbed it immediately and started our sessions again.
After a few days, the team noticed two of the students were missing. We asked others about their absence. They hesitantly told they will not attend the classes anymore. Harmeet was there that day and she inquired if they have work. They informed her that the landlady will not let them enter her house as those two kids belong to Bhangi caste (Sweepers mainly and apparently very low caste).
Knowing this, she was dismayed. She had never asked anyone which caste they belong to or their last names. Nor have allowed something like this to interfere with our work.
She immediately went out and found those two kids standing just next to the house door. They were weeping silently and the whole cow owner clan was looking at them with pride.
Sometimes, it amuses us to see the people whose source of income is cow, which they believe to be one of their goddesses in India and worth worshipping, are the ones who have such non-civic thoughts.
She then asked the land-lady about the issue and she said, “Yes madam, I have not allowed these two kids as they are bad luck. They are not even good for your class. It is better if you keep them away from you as well.”
How dare she say this about our children? At that moment, Harmeet realized that they were two of the most intelligent students of the group.
“If these two can’t enter, then I won’t rent your place. They are talented and you can’t stop them from learning,” she said and told the rest of the kids to wrap up again.
Suddenly, the magical power of money spoke.
“Ok, I will allow these kids to enter my house but you will not stop giving me the rent, right? Please don’t leave,” said the lady to Harmeet.
‘Paisa bolta hai’... such a true phrase!
We found this place after searching for ages so we continued our classes in her veranda for the time being and on one condition that every child of the slum can enter her place no matter what their caste is.
However, we welcomed those two kids in their much awaited group and they were all smiles. Still, we saw the disapproval on the faces of some kids who were not ready to be friends with the two kids because their parents had warned them not to interact with a Bhangi child.
We know there is a dark path ahead with lots of agony but certainly the kids are not to be blamed. They are just reflecting their parent’s teachings. Urban or rural, it is same everywhere. We have experienced many such caste issues back in parts of rural Rajasthan also so this was not a new concept for the team.
Sometimes, education also does not matter. Past cultures and patriarchal traditions rule the minds. They rot them to the core.
Anyway, the kids are happy again and eager for their next classes.