Reported By: Essar Batool, Consultant, Kashmir

 

For many of us who live in a hazira - newcomfortable bubble of facilities and opportunities, imagining a life that is full of lost opportunities is unfathomable and far more tough for us is to understand how much a lost chance to be literate to someone means. Not everything comes as easily to everyone; some people have missed out on the most basic rights of their lives such as education. The situation gets even more complex when we talk about girls and women living in far flung rural areas. For many, education is a dream that can never be realized due to multiple reasons, poverty, unawareness and contribution to family income being some of those. However what happens when a girl child is involved? The stakes double, the responsibilities double as well as the roles leading to an increased risk of the girl child missing her education. How many chances will the girl child get in the future when she is all grown up and has kids of her own? None, you say with some understanding of the world such a girl must have grown up in. However you are about to read the story of a mother who grabbed the chance she had missed and has turned her world around.

 

Hajira is a common name in Kashmir; however the Hajira we have here is uncommonly determined. She is like any other young village woman; beautiful, radiant, hard working and strong. For a woman in her early thirties Hajira is contradictory; shy in speaking but surprisingly bold in writing. A mother of three children, Hajira never got a chance to get educated. “Back then we didn’t go to school, none of us, both boys and girls. We just helped around with the household chores”, she speaks in a regretful tone of her childhood where she couldn’t even go to school, even though it was a dream. She talks about how helpless she felt when she watched her children read and write and couldn’t teach them or correct them. Illiteracy makes children think that they are superior to their parents and can deceive them. It was then that the Functional Literacy Centre (FLC) in Odina started and she got enrolled in the centre as a student. Talking about the early struggles, she says that her husband was skeptic about her wanting to join the center. ‘He was more concerned about what people would say. He thought they’d taunt him for sending his wife to a centre as a student so late in life that too to study what her kids studied as well’, Hajira tells us with a smile on her face. Later though her husband relented and allowed her to join the centre. That started the huge change Hajira was about to witness in her life. She has been a devoted student, an ardent scholar ever since, and never fails to attend her classes and never leaves her homework undone. For her life has become infinitely beautiful now that she can read and write. Her teacher, Abid also reaffirms that she is one of the best student in the class. The other students, some young girls, middle aged women and men all nod in approval and acquiesce that Hajira is the best among them when it comes to learning. Hajira blushes when her teacher tells us how ardently she does her homework and sometimes goes to his house so that he can help her out with a sum.

 

Hazira second new

For Hajira it is a blessing that she has a second chance in life at learning and being educated; a chance that she lost in her childhood. ‘I couldn’t go to school and that thought haunted me forever because that was the chance I’d never get again. But here I am today and I feel lucky that I am a student in this FLC, living my days of childhood and my dream’.  When asked about what changes she has felt in her life after being illiterate, she reiterates what many FLC weaver students have to say; that they are no more illiterate, they can sign instead of using their thumb impression, they feel dignified and important, and not vulnerable and inferior. Being literate, and being able to read and write has led to an evolution within the weavers as a collective, raising their self esteem and their position among their peers as well. For Hajira though, the victory is more personal for now she doesn’t feel the shame of not being able to guide or help her kids with their studies. She is not even shy of admitting that sometimes she sits with her kids to complete her homework. She tells us with a certain tilt of her head, indicative of the pride she takes in her new student life, ‘Nobody can call me an illiterate now. I am a literate (smiles proudly). Now I talk to my children, spell out their names and they look at me with a look of pride and surprise both. Sometimes we all sit together and do our homework. At times they teach me and at other times I teach them.’ Hajira is not just good at Urdu but equally excels at English and Mathematics as well. We give her a diary to write her name down and to solve a sum that her teacher has written down for her. She holds the pen with utmost reverence and starts writing. In no time she hands over the diary with her name neatly written both in Urdu and English and the sum flawlessly done. The dimpled smile and the happiness on her face is unmistakably that of a woman who has realized her dream with her own hands and the dream lays scribbled across the pages of my diary.