|This image is for representation only.|
19-year-old Nazmeen lives at Haiderpur in north Delhi.
Her father migrated from Bihar in search of better livelihood opportunities leaving his wife, Nazmeen’s mother, behind. Nazmeen was not even born then. “This is how it happens. Initially, men marry, leave their wives and go to the cities in search of work. They seldom return, consumed by the attractions of a city life and unreasonable working hours,” she explains.
After three years of her parents’ marriage, Nazmeen’s mother decided to follow her husband to Delhi. She had three children by then. With no source of income and little-to-no support from her husband, it became increasingly inconvenient for her to just depend on relatives.
Her struggles followed her to Delhi where she lived at Anand Parvat slum cluster with her children. Her husband worked as an ice-cream vendor with little to no income. There were days when the family of five would go without food. Yet, Nazmeen’s father would give no more than Rs 500 to support his family. The rest of his income went into alcohol and gambling.
On a neighbour’s advice Nazmeen’s mother decided to move to a juggi at Haiderpur with her children. She also started working as a domestic help, earning Rs. 2,500 per month. The family was saved from starvation; but it meant that her elder brothers had to stop going to school and take up daily wage work at construction sites instead.
In her mother’s absence, Nazmeen’s elder sister discontinued schooling and took up domestic responsibilities. At 17, Nazmeen’s eldest sister got married.
“She is 30 years old now, and has four children. She was pregnant within a year of her marriage, at 18. I could never find out what her dreams could be. I shudder to think of life like hers,” her voice breaks as she recalls her sister who was almost like a mother to her.
Nazmeen got a chance to go to school at the age of six. She would see children in the neighbourhood go to school and plead with her mother to send her to one. Following her footsteps, her younger brother also got enrolled. “I remember both of us went to get enrolled. We were the last ones and the school refused admission. On pleading with them, they said one of us could get enrolled.
My brother asked me to take the seat. “I will get enrolled in the next year, behen,” he said. I would never forget that moment. It was then that I vowed to make the most of the opportunity I got, ” her voice struggles to remain steady.
Throughout school she worked hard, never forgetting her brother’s sacrifice, her mother’s struggles and her resolve to make the best out of the opportunity she alone had. She never came second in class. “I worked hard. No one forced me to. At home, my mother and elder brothers could only think of putting two meals together. I struggled to learn so that I could put an end to their suffering. When my eldest brother got married, my mother loaned Rs. 2 lakhs to build a brick-and-cement home with two rooms. She worked harder to pay back,” she remembers.
When Nazmeen came home with a glowing report card at the end of each year, there would be no one to share her happiness. Her mother, worn out by financial troubles, would ‘place her hand on her head, utter a blessing and wipe a tear from the corner of her eyes’.
“It would leave me with a biting sense of guilt that I was not supporting her financially. But, I would console myself by saying that a time would come when I would support her better with better pay and working conditions,” she explains.
Nazmeen scored 75 percent in the tenth standard. Her teachers were happy with her performance but she was sad. She knew her family would not support her dream to study further. Her mother confirmed her worst fears.
“She asked me to learn Urdu and take sewing lessons instead. She was concerned that I did not have any skills to become a suitable bride,” Nazmeen laughs.
She was admitted to a madrasa but couldn’t continue beyond one month. “I was simply not interested. I pleaded with my mother to send me to school. After a lot of fights, she permitted me to study for two more years. I was relieved,” she says.
Nazmeen paid her school fees from a scholarship she had won for her academic achievements in the tenth standard. “I came first in the 11th standard examination and scored 86 percent in the higher secondary examination,” she says, a hint of pride in her voice. However, she knew her mother would not allow her to go to college. But she wanted to make a last desperate attempt to convince her. She requested her mother to accompany her to the school to collect her higher secondary report card. At school, her mother met Nazmeen’s teachers. All of them heaped praises on her daughter’s performance and appealed to her to let Nazmeen study further. But she was not convinced.
“My brothers supported my mother’s decision to not allow me to go to college. They were worried that I would become “too educated” to get any groom," she explains.
Nazmeen soon found a way to go to college. She was aware of Rs. 6000 in her bank account from a government sponsorship (Ladli scheme) for adolescent girls in Delhi. She got herself enrolled in an open learning course (BA in Political Science) in Delhi University.
“No one in my family knew about it. I wanted to study further. After coming so far, I didn’t want to stop. I chose this course because there would be no regular classes, just one examination in six months. I thought I could make an excuse and give my examination,” she explains.
However, her little secret was soon out in the open. Her family was going through a financial crisis when her mother asked her to withdraw the money from her account. This is when she confessed that the money was gone; she had used it to get enrolled in a college.
“My mother was angry and upset. She stopped talking to me. I pleaded with her. I agreed to do all housework if she would allow me to sit for the examination once in six months” she says. After a lot of convincing, she relented.
A year ago, another opportunity came her way. Magic Bus’ programme had just begun in her locality. Pooja, Magic Bus’ Youth Mentor, approached her with an offer: How would she like teaching children the importance of education through activities?
“I loved the idea of Magic Bus. I thought I could make use of my free time and teach children. But my mother refused to allow me to step outside. She was not comfortable with the fact that both boys and girls would come for these sessions and I would be wearing the Magic Bus uniform in front of the entire community,” she explains.
Pooja, however, succeeded in convincing her mother to send Nazmeen for the sessions. But, on the first day itself, her brother told her that such freedom is not ‘honourable’ for adolescent girls and strictly forbade her from going to the sessions ever again. “I was a Community Youth Leader for a day”, she sighs.
Pooja never lost touch with Nazmeen. She would often visit her and talk to her about her career plans. It was from Pooja that Nazmeen first heard about Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre. Pooja convinced her mother to send her for these classes, assuring her that she would be under strict supervision.
Nazmeen started attending the training at Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre from November 2015. She started classes on life-skills, computer lessons, and English literacy. The staff helped her plan her career ahead. But Nazmeen seemed to have hit a dead end. She didn’t want to dream any further.
“I was exhausted fighting at home. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do a job. I knew they were looking for a groom for me. I shared my problems with the counsellor. I shared my dream to become a teacher one day. She listened to me. She gave me the confidence to negotiate with my mother again. She assured me that she would even come to my house to meet my mother. I have never received such support from anyone in my life,” she shares.
Nothing Nazmeen said could convince her mother to allow her to work. “She told me clearly that our neighbours would start looking down on my brothers if I start working outside. I was crestfallen. I thought my luck had run out,” Nazmeen says.
The next day, she was surprised to find Magic Bus’ staff at her doorstep. The Centre Coordinator and the Counsellor visited her house, and spoke to her mother and brothers.
“If it hadn’t been for Mithilesh sir, Avinash sir, and Jayata ma’am, I would have been stuck at home now. All my efforts would have gone in vain,” she says.
In December 2015, Nazmeen got her first job with the HDFC bank for a salary of Rs. 10,000 a month. “I couldn’t believe myself. For the first time, my mother was happier than me. She knew I could support her financially,” she says, adding, “I don’t fault her for being difficult with me all these years. She had never seen any better during her youth. She was my sole confidante all this while. My father was never there for any of us, but she was.”
Nazmeen gives a part of her salary to her mother and saves a small part for a teacher-training course.
“I haven’t forgotten my dream yet. It is to be a teacher,” her voice sparkles with silent excitement as she looks forward to her dreams with renewed vigour.