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India: Young village girl inspires peers to join school

Feb 07, 2011

When all of Lalita’s classmates dropped out of the village government school of Sherpur village in Madhya Pradesh, her parents kept aside their dilemma observing Lalita’s unflinching dedication to her studies and hard work to excel in education. Her perseverance well reflected in her report cards, also inspired other girls of the village to go to school.

Lalita, a shy 15-year-old girl is a household name in and around Sherpur village nearly 60 km from Indore in Madhya Pradesh. For two years, she was the lone student in her village’s government girls’ middle school, which has since become famous as Lalita ka school (Lalita’s school).

Lalita had completed her primary education in a neighbouring village where her father, Madan Lal Girwal, a class IV employee in the public works department, used to work. When she joined this school, in 2007, she had 22 classmates. But soon all of them either dropped out or joined the private school in the village. This left Lalita all alone, and her parents in a dilemma.

In an area where most of the other tribal families did not send their daughters to school, Lalita’s parents decided to support her quest for education and have faith in the teachers who hailed from the same village. “Many people advised me to shift her to the private school,” says her father, who was nonetheless undeterred. So Lalita had three teachers all to herself while she did her sixth and seventh. “My teachers taught me well,” says the gritty student, “I understood everything. That is why I never missed my school.” The boys’ middle school in the village was facing a shortage of teachers at the time, which prompted the state government to merge it with the girls’ school in which Lalita was studying. In class eight, therefore, Lalita was the lone girl student with 20 boys. She passed her exams with distinction that year. "Teachers provided extra help," says Kamal Jaat, a teacher who is in charge of the school, “But she scored so well due to her hard work and her parent’s support. She also inspired other girls to join and restored public faith in government schools.”

Many parents decided to send their daughters to school once again and some even shifted their daughters from the private school to this school. More than 25 girls joined the school in 2009. Ashok Jaat was among those who had lost faith in government schools. He paid Rs 12,000 a year for the education of his two daughters in a private school. But Lalita’s example encouraged him as well to enroll both his daughters in the government school. He, however, admits, “Had she been my daughter, I would not have let her study alone in a school. Her parents have shown rare courage. Now we are saving a lot of money and my children are getting good education as well.”

The government school does not charge any fees. What’s more, students get free books and uniform as well.

Lalita’s mother Bhagwanta has been specially supportive. “We belong to a tribal group and here girls are not allowed to study for long. But I wanted my daughter to study,” she says. Bhagwanta defied not only tradition but also the advice of elders in the village. “Humein vishwaas thha. Aaj dekho aur kitni ladkiyan school jaati hain. (We had faith. See how many girls she has inspired to go to school).” While everybody is all praise for the girl who has become an icon of sorts, Lalita is too shy to say much. She just says when she had no friends in the classroom, she had her pet parrot Raja’s company. She loved studying and did not want to drop out at any cost.

She never realised she was setting an example for the others. “Today my teachers praise me. And others in the village ask their daughters to be like me. I feel really happy,” she beams. She wants to continue her education and aspires to become a doctor. “There is no female doctor in my village. I want to be the first one,” she says. She can rest assured that this time her entire village will stand up in her support.

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