RAJASTHAN: If you ask Basanti Devi, 43, how she became a teacher in the tribal region of south Rajasthan, she’d take you to her childhood. Born into a poverty-stricken family, she lost her parents in her infancy and was brought up by her maternal grandparents in a village of Sirohi district.
She studied till 5th and was married off when she turned 13. When Basanti started living with husband Hakma Ram in Thandi Beri village, about 50 km from Sirohi, she realised she was the most educated woman in the village. Hakma Ram, though a matriculate, wanted his wife to study further.
“Luckily, a few years after my marriage, the state’s Social Welfare Department began a Shiksha Karmi Yojana under which people who had studied till 5th standard could become teachers in tribal areas. I got a chance to teach in our village school,” she recalls.
In 2000, she was offered Rs 600 per month a “royal sum” as a contractual teacher which enabled her to overcome family opposition. “When I got my first salary, I gave the entire amount to my mother-in-law. She had never received so much money in her life. Since then she never opposed my becoming a teacher.”
An emboldened Basanti first cleared the 8th standard exams and soon passed the 10th standard Board exams from the state open school. A few years later, when her own daughter reached the 10th standard, she inspired both Basanti and her husband to clear the class 12 board exams. She enrolled herself as a private college student and soon got her BA degree. When teachers in government schools were given the offer to take STC, equivalent to a B.Ed degree, Basanti happily gained that qualification to become a fully-trained school teacher.
Basanti says a lot has changed. “When I started teaching, they were only five girls in our village school. Now over 300 girls have passed up to middle school or class 8. Currently, of the 108 students enrolled in our school, 53 are girls,” says Basanti. A local activist-cum-journalist Nathu Singh describes Basanti’s example as a new revolution in the tribal region.
“Till about a decade ago, the condition of girls and women was miserable. Many men would have 3-4 wives and girls were largely helpless. Basanti has given new inspiration to thousands of girls. The results are visible: most tribal girls and their mothers study and at times resist social evils that cripple their lives.”
Besides teaching in her village school, Basanti goes out every evening to engage with women in her area to not only send their kids to school but also make them realise the importance of education. She is currently on a special mission to encourage and train the village women to take to adult literacy so that they can at least read and write.
Basanti has ensured good education for her three children. Her husband Hakma Ram has completed his graduation and has a job in the local panchayat. “It’s because of Basanti’s motivation that I completed my school education and then got a BA degree,” says Hakma Ram. Many of her students have gone on to get good jobs. Basanti, however, is still a contractual teacher earning just Rs 8,000 per month despite 20 years of dedicated service.