She sat in her kuccha verandah at Uldana village, stoic and sullen, yet welcomed us in. We effortlessly spoke about her Janishala days. The stark contrast hit us. She would study relentlessly while taking care of her two young girls back then. But now she sits in her home, her two girls sit next to her and she says “Zindagi ab bekaar ho gayi”. (life has lost its meaning). She is Girija, 25, former learner of Janishala’s first batch of 2008.
Like most girls in Bundelkhand, Girija was married off when she was less than 15 years old and never got the opportunity of formal education. She was a survivor of domestic violence, heavily burdened with domestic work which left no scope for exploring any learning opportunities. However, with the support and encouragement of the Sahajani Shiksha Kendra (SSK) team she came to the village literacy centre run by SSK. After which, she came to Janishala.
Journey In Janishala
Since Janishala was an 8-month-residential learning programme, it was very difficult for Girija to persuade her in-laws to allow her to stay away from home for such a long period. Her husband had not come back home for many months. So, she brought her two daughters, Jyoti, 5, and Muskan, 1, to Janishala leaving her eldest daughter, Lakshmi, at her brother’s home. But ironically, her husband came looking for her once she joined Janishala. He would hurl abuses and pelt stones at the building making the atmosphere very hostile for her.
Girija withstood. She stayed on and soon became one of the most eager learners. She was good at mathematics, and eagerly picked up the language. She was keen to absorb all the information regarding varied themes like ‘Body’ and automatically linked it with her life. For her, learning and application went hand in hand. However, she did struggle with fractions and matra and wished she could study without having to take care of her two daughters. When asked to reflect on the pedagogy in Janishala, she didn’t have a reference point to compare it with because she never went to school.
Janishala was special to Girija. Her initial reluctance to be a learner at a later stage in life was proven wrong when her peers turned out be non-judgmental, welcoming, and supported her in her education. Here she found women who came from similar backgrounds. Girija was attached to Janishala; she did not want to leave.
Girija hoped to study further and be self sufficient. She dreamt of a day when she would be able to take care of her three girls by herself. But the reality was different. Her initial enthusiasm died down after she went back to her old life. Her husband had come back by then and began to control her life. She was not allowed to go to the nearby literacy centre. Without regular follow ups, her newly acquired literacy skills could not be brushed up. She began to forget what she had learnt. Under her husband’s constant scrutiny her confidence began to ebb, she lost the will to fight. Besides, after a hard day’s work in the field, she was left with no time or energy to go to the centre and study.
But some things stayed on
Her love for maths continues, she still remembers the multiplication tables up to 18. She now knows more about her body and contraception. She still recounts the food analogy of the sexuality sessions where different kinds of tastes and desires were discussed. Skills might fade, but knowledge stays on.