Born into a poor dalit family, Ram Kunwar and her sister live with their father in Sukul Guwan. Her mother passed away when she was only 2. Although she was married off at the age of 10, Ram Kunwar continued to live at her natal home away from her husband because he was mentally disturbed. Here, she had to take on the housework and care of her ill father.
The burden of her responsibilities left Ram Kunwar little time for school, so she attended the learning centre run by Sahajani Shiksha Kendra, where the hours were fewer and more flexible. Here she heard about Janishala and made up her mind to go to it. Even when her father refused to pay the fees, Kunwar was determined to find a way to continue her education. She worked as a manual labourer to save up enough money for the Rs. 25 monthly fees.
Although she was only 15 when she joined Janishala, Ram Kunwar already talked and behaved like a fully grown adult. As the only one from her village at Janishala, she was homesick. Soon she got over it as she became more engaged with her studies, especially when she was writing. As part of the videography course, she loved watching music videos and learning about pan shot, close up etc. In the Jal, Jungle, Zameen sessions, she learnt that earthquakes are not caused by snakes moving underground and was excited to share this with other people in her village. Before coming to Janishala, Ram Kunwar knew what it meant to be dalit, but it was here that she understood the intricacies and workings of the highly stratified caste system.
During Janishala, she also started understanding the connections between her own life and larger social structures. In the sexuality sessions she learnt that underlying the rules of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is the desire to control girls. This reminded her of the jibes made by her father about girls who hang out with their friends as ‘buri’. “The reason why girls are married off at an early age is so that they don’t get ‘spoilt’”, she said.
Back in the village after the 8 month residential programme, Ram Kunwar was confronted with a lot of questions about where she had been. Some villagers asked her if she had gone away on a job. Ram Kunwar felt quite angry on having to explain her absence. In her frustration, her first response was, “Ya, ya.. I am working.” But then didn’t know what to say when asked how much she was earning.
Today, life at home continues to be full of responsibilities. She is back to looking after her father, and doing manual labour. “Hum fasse hue hai”( I am stuck), she says while describing a difficult situation where she feels pressured by both her marital and natal family: with her father and in-laws bickering over property, and a sense of obligation to take care of her sick father.
However, after a hard day’s work, Ram Kunwar still manages find a little bit of time for herself and relax with the pleasures of reading. She occasionally helps her 11 year old sister with homework. Although she struggles with self-confidence and the reality that there is no school after 5th standard in her village, Ram Kunwar still wants to attend more literacy camps and send her sister to Janishala.