Defying norms, in a rundown neighbourhood in Malda in West Bengal, transwoman Arindam Saha Kundu (now known as Priyanka) and her fellow transgender friends Abhijit Nag and Bapon Jemadar are busy imparting education to more than 40 children belonging to the Dalit community, which is largely engaged in manual scavenging.
The railway colony in Malda town harbours the Dalit community. Choosing to look beyond their own share of problems, Priyanka and the rest, hailing from the town itself, decided to be a ray of hope to the marginalised kids, who lose much of their childhood to manual scavenging, gambling, and drugs.
Although it is 2017, people still treat the Dalit community as untouchables. The children suffer as the impoverished families are not able to afford education and often take their wards along while doing manual scavenging, cleaning tasks, etc. We wanted to do something for them," Priyanka told IANS from Malda.
These teachers are paid salaries through crowdfunding.
There is no fixed salary. Whatever comes, we are fine with that. If we do any social work for some gain, then it's not social work. We want funding to run the school, said Priyanka.
Talking about the biological changes involved in the life of a transgender, she said,
I wanted to give in to my maternal instincts. By soul we are women and so there is a deep yearning to be a mother. Since we can't do that, this is the closest possible; we can be with children and help them find their way," said Priyanka, a commerce graduate.
So in June, 'Sapno Ki Udaan' under the Gour Bangla Sanghati Samiti took wings in a room at a local club. Ranging from primary to middle-school levels, the children, mostly dropouts, have only had snatches of education.
Some children know the alphabet, some don't. So the challenge was to customise the lessons. We are providing them lessons in basic science, maths, English, etc. The idea is to get them up to scratch so they can go back to school, Priyanka explained.
About the initial challenges, she said,
The children were friendly with us. So we didn't have much issues with them, but their parents were reluctant. It was not just that we were transgender; it was also the fact that they didn't feel educating their children would be of much help.
The idea was galvanised into action with the help of Bapon, a transgender from the Dalit community. He helped convince the parents to let the children come to the school each evening.
In addition, we wanted to break stereotypes. There are taboos associated with our community and we wanted to show the other side.
With inputs from IANS.