Pappu Kathat was only 13 when he left his Lasaria village in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district to come to the national capital to work as a rickshaw puller. He had to drop out of school to find work because it was tough for his father, Ahmad, to single-handedly support a family of 10 children. Living on the footpath in Delhi there was one name he used to hear very often — Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer. He was surprised that a woman had reached such an ‘important position’ because in his village girls used to get married before they turned 18 and were never allowed to complete their education.
For five years Pappu and his father slogged day and night to make ends meet. But after his eldest brother Mohan was recruited in the army in 1985, their financial position improved considerably and his father returned to the village. Pappu though continued to work — first as truck driver and then as a crane operator.
Of course, the time he spent in Delhi totally changed his outlook, particularly towards understanding a woman’s role in the family and society. He realised that educating themwas the key to ensuring advancement of not just one’s family but the community as well. Pappu wanted to make a difference in the lives of his village girls and he started off by bringing about a transformation within his own family. Although three of his sisters had already stopped going to school after their early marriage, when his fourth sister, Sushila, who had also been married off when she was just five, completed her Class Five he didn’t let her drop out of school. He insisted that she go to Andheri Deori village, five km away, to continue her schooling. In 1999, after she passed her Class 10 exams, he arranged for her to pursue her senior secondary studies at Beawar town, 11 km away, and sent his youngest sister, Kiran, named after the trailblazing IPS officer, to an English medium school in Beawar.
His Mission Education extended to the larger community after he got elected as the sarpanch of Delwara gram panchayat, which has six villages under it. There were two schools in the panchayat and both were only till Class Eight. Pappu upgraded them to secondary level. “Often, the reason for girls dropping out early was the long distance they had to traverse from home to school. Parents don’t allow daughters to travel alone in these parts. So I knew that if I had to motivate them to educate their girls, I had to provide schools that were not too far away,” states Pappu, a father of two.
Then, in 2010, when Delwara panchayat became reserved for women he egged on his wife, Umra, who shares his passion for promoting literacy, to jump into the fray. Riding on the success of her husband’s dedicated activism she registered a thumping victory. During her tenure, the Delwara school was upgraded to Class 12 while the one at Lasaria was extended to Class 10.
In 2015, when the government introduced the minimum educational qualification criterion for candidates in the local self government, the community decided to approach his sister, Kiran, to provide the progressive leadership that Pappu’s family has become synonymous with. “The villagers wanted someone from among us to continue the work that I had begun. Kiran won and I’m happy to see that she’s carrying forward my legacy,” says the proud brother.
Truly, the women of Pappu’s family have become an inspiration for the girls in the area. Sushila boldly rejected her childhood nuptials after her in-laws began asking her family to send her to them once she turned 14. “There was a lot of friction between the two families but thankfully my mother and brother stood by me and refused to send me away. They realised that I wouldn’t go to them and I was freed of the burden of an unwanted relationship,” she shares.
Sushila is the first girl from the 12-lakh-strong Kathat Muslim community to qualify for a government job. Incidentally, the Kathats, who are descendants of the Chauhan rulers of the erstwhile Rajputana that converted to Islam in the 14th century, are spread across three districts of Ajmer, Pali and Bhilwara. Sushila is all set to become a sub-inspector in Rajasthan Police after completing her probation. Her siblings, Sangeeta and Kiran, are working as school teacher and sarpanch-cum-software engineer, respectively. Even their elder sister Jeena, who had gone off to her husband’s home after Class 10, got divorced in 2012 and, after much counselling from Pappu and Kiran, resumed her studies and is now doing first year Bachelor of Arts course.
Indeed, these days, colleges in Beawar are full of girls from Delwara panchayat. “Pappu’s sisters have shown that with good education women can accomplish anything. I am ensuring that my daughters go regularly to school in Beawar,” says Ismail Kathat, a Lasaria resident. Adds Maimoonnesha Ansari, 19, an undergraduate at a Beawar college, “Most of us really look up to Kiran and her sister.”
Kiran, who has effortlessly stepped into Pappu’s shoes, is glad that her brother has never shied away from taking a stand for the empowerment of girls. “Talking about education is his favourite topic. When Sushila had completed her college in 2009 and got a job in 2012, for three years, people mocked Pappu ‘bhaiya’ for being the one to let his sister ‘waste’ her life in college. But when she became a sub-inspector, my family took a truckload of villagers to the police academy in Jaipur for her passing-out ceremony. Thereafter, no one ever needed any proof of the kind of benefits education can have on a girl’s life,” elaborates Kiran.
While the modest young woman is all praises for her older siblings, she, too, is making them proud. Kiran, who divides her time between her duties as the sarpanch and her job as a web and mobile app developer for Shree Cement, has done her B Tech in Information Technology from Jodhpur Institute of Engineering and Technology.
In 2014, after she won the election, she promised bicycles to students who scored more than 70 per cent marks and last year, she gave away bicycles to two such boys in Lasaria. The same day, she was felicitated by Ajmer’s district collector for turning Delwara into the first open-defecation-free gram panchayat in Jawaja Panchayat Samiti.
Currently, she’s busy setting up a computer lab at Delwara Government Senior Secondary School, which will provide free computer training to girls. While Kiran is taking forward the work Pappu started over a decade ago, the man himself has gone back to school. “I have resumed my studies in earnest. I sat for my Class 10 exams through open school but I failed in Maths. I am working hard to pass this time,” he says, adding that his wife, Umra, too, has cleared Class Eight.
By motivating and leading by example, Pappu Kathat has made the right to education a lived reality for the women of Delwara.
(© Women’s Feature Service)