By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna
Tonk, Rajasthan: The 200-strong crowd gathered under the shade of a large tree in the dusty village of Nayagaon Shrirampuri looks on curiously as the TV screen blinks and comes alive. The story of Anuradha Rathore unfolds before their enthralled eyes. They hear a young medicine student, hailing from a poor family in Jaipur, talk about her childhood struggles and her fight against polio, which left her with a permanent limp but could not cripple her dreams of becoming a doctor.
Currently studying at Jodhpur Medical College, Anuradha wants to become a doctor so that she can prevent other children from contracting polio. “I want to open a medical centre in my village where the treatment would be free of cost and where no one would jump the queue unless its an emergency” the girl on the screen says earnestly.
As her image fades away, the audience murmurs and exchanges awestruck looks with each other, some whispering with their neighbours. Young Rajanti, who has been closely following the film, lets out a sigh. “See! Here is a girl suffering from polio, but she has not let it affect her dreams. I admire her for pursuing a profession which involves deep social commitment,” she observes.
Rajanti, 19, finds an instant connection with Anuradha as she herself had to struggle to reach class 12 in the higher secondary school located 3 km away from her village in Tonk district, about 90 km from Jaipur. As is the practice in her village, she was betrothed at a very early age. But like many of her peers, she refused to leave the maternal home at the age of 18 to settle with her husband and instead insisted on continuing her studies. She had to face stiff resistance from her parents and other relatives.
“Maybe if I persevere, I too can become a doctor like Anuradha or a teacher. I really want to help the girls in our community and show everyone that we are as good as boys, and even better, and can achieve more than just looking after the household,” she says confidently. Rajanti is another girl star in the making as she was awarded Rs. 1,100 by the state government for securing 1st rank in Class 8.
Anuradha is one of three girls in Rajasthan whose story has been documented to show how ordinary girls, despite all odds, have educated themselves and thus become role models for others. The success stories of Anuradha, Durga Bai, the health worker from a tribal village in Udaipur district, and Bhauri Malavat of Bikaner district, who rose from extreme poverty to become a police constable, have been captured in three short documentaries of 10 minutes each.
The documentaries have been screened in a total of 64 villages in Rajasthan with an average attendance of 250 per village through a 32-day roadshow, entitled the ‘Girl Stars’ Roadshow, organised by UNICEF India to highlight the importance of educating the girl child. This one-of-its-kind road show, which concluded on June 11, 2007, covered the four districts of Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Tonk.
Young girls in the audience say they feel vindicated by the stories of these three young women and are now even more determined to see their goals turn into reality.
The story of Bhauri made a deep impression on young Kalavati Swami. Bhauri was married off at a tender age and grew up facing discrimination from other villagers, like having to collect water from a separate well, because she belongs to the Saansi community.
Learning about the achievements of renowned police officer Kiran Bedi at school one day, she vowed to become a police officer too so that she could change the mindset of her community. She was undaunted when she failed a year, she repeated the class and went on to complete her higher education. Today, she is a police constable in Bikaner district.
“Having grown up as someone who was shunned as an undesirable member of society, Bhauri knew that only education could make her life better,” remarks 15-year-old Kalavati, who is studying in class 10.
Durga Bai’s tale also finds reflection in the lives of many poor Rajasthani girls. She had to leave school at the age of 13 to get married. Today, Durga Bai, as a health worker, travels alone by bus to 22 villages every month to carry the message of health and hygiene.
“I was very touched by Anuradha’s story,” says Kalodi, 13. “Her father was poor but he took loans from other people so that he could get his daughter educated and fulfill her dreams. I would also like to become a doctor and work in my village as we face so many health problems”.