Educating a girl is like opening a school…

When two dreamers, who are also doers, come together with the perfect match in vision, compassion and generosity, then magic happens.

I discovered this in one of the most amazing assignments I have done for Rotary News, during a three-day trip to Manipur. This was after hearing D Ravishankar, President of RC Bangalore Orchards, who suddenly shot to fame at the dawn of this Rotary new year by announcing a stunning donation of ₹100 crore to The Rotary Foundation, talk passionately about the need to build schools in the North-East.

Let’s not forget that Manipur is one of our troubled States where militants exploit the feeling of disenchantment among many locals with the Indian State, and carry out attacks at Army posts. But when you have a retired Colonel, Christopher Rego, carrying out heart-warming work to ensure that the poorest of poor children in this lovely region, which Jawaharlal Nehru called the ‘Jewel of India’ — Manipur literally translates to ‘jewelled land’, get an education with dignity, then our men in uniform get a boost in those pockets.

Read about Col Rego’s challenging work in this issue, and the battle that children living in far-flung areas in our Northeast region, filled with hills and valleys and vulnerable to frequent floods washing away roads leading to schools, are waging to get the most basic of education. And then think about the privileged life we lead… in which our children studying in the best of schools or colleges is a given. Ravishankar has recently teamed up with Rego and has already invested ₹1 crore, in addition to his ₹100 crore donation, in ventures associated particularly with girls’ education and women’s empowerment.

While your mind lights up at such a firm resolve to lift girls/women out of illiteracy and poverty, moving from Manipur to the ‘developed’ State of Maharashtra, as I write this edit, my eye catches the front-page article in The Hindu Business Line this morning. It talks about unwanted girls in Maharashtra’s drought-hit region being named Nakushi (Marathi for unwanted) and condemned to fetch water. “Earlier this month,” says the article, “after wandering for hours to fetch some water, Nakushi Ahire saw some in a well a few km away in Sarde, a village in Nashik district. While drawing it, she lost her balance and fell in, and died on the spot.”

Apparently, says the report, there are thousands of girls with either this name or Dhonda (stone, in Marathi, translating to ‘burden’) across Maharashtra’s parched landscape searching for water, which is their responsibility. “Right from birth, we are told that we are unwanted. We grow with this tag, which we carry lifelong, with a pot of water. We are either Nakushi or Dhonda,” says Dhondabai Nimbule from Osmanabad. And as summer approaches, many more girls/women will die doing this task, adds the article.

As Rotary searches for the missing women members in its member base, there are also many Ravishankars (he quotes a Kannada proverb which says educating a girl is like opening a school) within the Rotary fold who are working passionately, energetically and tirelessly for girls’ education. At the end of the day, education, also of the parents, is the only answer to uproot this Nakushi culture in pockets of our country that are surely not confined to Maharashtra alone.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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