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Living on the edge

Kids in Gurugram’s Banjara Market are discovering the joys of education but their dreams may be crushed by the ruthless actions of civic authorities

“My name is Nirjala Rajput and I want to become an IPS officer,” announces a 12-year-old girl sitting with her parents in Banjara Market, a flea market in Gurugram’s Sector 56, named after the nomadic tribe of Rajasthan. It’s one of the biggest flea markets of the city and Delhi-NCR.

Nirjala is a young and shy girl, who, like some other children of the market is getting quality education. She is currently in sixth standard and goes to a school near the market.

Every day, she wakes up at 6 am, takes out her school uniform, goes to the small jungle next to the market because there’s no toilet facility in their home and leaves for school around 6:45.

After school, she helps her parents in managing the furniture stall they run from a tent. She even manages the stall on her own sometimes but needs help to count the money.

She says that environmental studies is her favourite subject. “Mujhe acha lagta hain. Nayi nayi cheezein pata chalti hain (I like the subject as I get to learn new things),” says Nirjala.

However, the outlook was not so rosy a year back when she was taught by a tutor who takes classes in the market’s makeshift homes. Although she enjoys learning in these classes too, she feels that this new school in which she just got admission is “better and the study is step by step and not just the basics.”

However, it is not just by chance that she made it to a proper school. The children in the area are taught by a tutor who comes every day to take classes. Those who grasp quickly are selected to be admitted to public or private schools – the latter depends on a neighbourhood school’s policy of taking underprivileged children.

She and her sister Kajal, both study in the same school and in the same class. In contrast to her sister, Kajal remains mostly silent as she is asked about her new school and her aspirations.

“They teach us in English only and I like to learn it. I don’t really face much problems and when I do the teacher helps me,” shares Nirjala.

As she was answering the questions, her mother, who mostly spends time at their stall-cum-home, has a constant smile on her face, as her daughter continues to tell us about school and her dream of becoming an IPS officer.

“She told me the other day that she wants to become an IPS and I was puzzled as to what that means,” confesses the girls’ mother.

When Nirjala is asked to explain an IPS officer’s job, she giggles, gets shy for a few seconds and then says, “They sambhalo (manage) the city and are aware of everything going on. They also work towards curbing crime.”

As Nirjala tells us what IPS officers do, her mother, in a soft voice utters “Apne naseeb mein kahan hai yeh sab” (All this is not in our destiny).

She’s not being pessimist about her daughter’s future but there’s a big reason for her to be so. The Banjara Market is not sanctioned by the civic body in the city, which means the stall owners can be asked any time to evacuate the area. This is not just a cause of worry amongst the stall owners, but a fact of life that they are accustomed to now.

Possibly that’s why Nirjala and Kajal’s parents worry so much about their daughters’ future. During the conversation, her father breaks down because artisans like him do not get enough support from the government.

“Today we are sitting here. Six months back the whole market was demolished. They will do the same in the next two months. 150-200 children are either getting homeschooled or are going to a regular school. If they ask us to evict, what will be the future of these children?”
questions the man, refusing to provide his name.

He says that most people in the market want to be settled, stay in one place, and most importantly, see their children go to school every day. However, no such support or a regulated place has been provided by the authorities in the past to these artisans.

“We can even settle next to a mountain if they provide us with one place to settle down,” he further shares.  If that brings in  better educational opportunities for his children, then he is ready to relocate anywhere.

Up until now, wherever the family has moved to, they have looked for a school that can provide free admission to the girls. For them, the prospects remain grim. To get the girls admitted to a new school has always been a problem, and has affected their growth.

While the Rajput family remains ambiguous about the future, little Abhishek, 10, remains carefree — his age and his zeal to study could be the reason behind this.

He overheard the conversation and came running and told us that he also goes to school and would like to share his experience too.

Unlike the Rajput girls, he goes to a much better school, in terms of teaching and amenities. He says that he is studying in Delhi Public School in the city and cannot remember the area or the branch.

He too, earlier, was homeschooled, but recently got admitted in fourth standard in a school — which is largely popular amongst the elite section of the society.

Abhishek proudly shares he can “write and read English comfortably.” He continues, “I also know ascending and descending order, expanded forms and calculations.”

He says that he likes the new school more than the previous one because “the education is much better in the new school.” He was asked on what grounds he judges them, his reply is quite perceptive. “They make us study more here and different teachers come for different subjects.”

Abhishek also shares that he not only gets to study in a good school but has also made new friends who invite him to their birthday parties. “The class has both rich and poor children,” he claims. He wasn’t asked this question but he thought to clear it beforehand.

Like Nirjala, Abhishek too helps his parents in the business and takes his father’s help when he can’t figure out the calculations in maths.

He further shares that he loves Virat Kohli and wishes to be a cricketer like him someday. “I play cricket in school. The ground is nice,” concludes Abhishek.

These children are full of aspirations but their parents are unsure what their future holds due to the market’s unregulated status. If tomorrow they are asked to evict, these children will have a new school to look forward to, but only if they get free education. Thus, whether children like Abhiskek or Nirjala can
fulfill their dreams or not remains uncertain.