Changing Lives on the margins

Kartik Nathjogi, a resident of Ramabai’s village who holds a master’s degree in Marathi literature and political science, played a significant role in encouraging Ramabai to attend school.
Changing Lives on the margins

MAHARASHTRA: Ramabai Chavan, a 16-year-old girl from the Nathjogi community, a gypsy tribal group, has become the first person from her community to pass the class 10th examination. Living in a modest hamlet, a life frought with numerous challenges, in Bhandara district of Maharashtra’s drought-prone Vidarbha region, Ramabai says her community primarily survives through begging.

The Nathjogi people are nomadic, constantly traveling in search of sustenance. “My parents go to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha to beg for food, mostly grains,” Ramabai narrates. “This has been our way of life for generations, so no one stays in one place for long. We lack agricultural land and are not trained for work in other sectors, so our people rely solely on begging.”

In class 10th, Ramabai had no books and had to rely on her memory to retain what was taught in the classroom. “I was afraid to take the class 10th exams, but my teacher encouraged me to appear if I wanted to do something for our community,” Ramabai said.

Kartik Nathjogi, a resident of Ramabai’s village who holds a master’s degree in Marathi literature and political science, played a significant role in encouraging Ramabai to attend school. As a passionate advocate for education from a marginalized community, Kartik has become a beacon of hope for children, particularly girls who are often married at an early age. “Being a postgraduate from the begging community, I feel proud, but I’m deeply concerned about how much more needs to be done to integrate our community into the mainstream,” Kartik said.

In his village, children often accompany their parents to begging, greatly undermining their safety and education. “No one stays at home to look after their children. Who will take care of them in a parent’s absence? This worry leads to children missing school and being deprived of basic education,” Kartik says. Driven by a fervent desire to usher change, Kartik decided to start a residential school for his gypsy community. Despite initial setbacks and lack of support from local politicos, Kartik’s determination never wavered. “I appealed to many local politicians for help, but no one came through. They made promised, but when it came to providing, they turned away,” he recalled.

Undeterred, Kartik began collecting small contributions from his village, a mere `10 from each family. With this modest fund, he set up a tin shed classroom, furnished it with chairs, tables, and books, and invited the children to learn. “The response was good, and eventually, the local administration also offered their support,” he said with pride.

Kartik dreams of establishing a full-fledged residential school for his community, aiming to secure good jobs in both government and private sectors for the children. “We want to live a decent, honorable life. If we don’t achieve that, what’s the point of freedom?” Kartik says.

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