Published: 22nd July 2021
How student activist Samya Korde has helped kids in Dharavi get access to education
As per government estimates, there are around 57,000 families living in the slums that are spread across 2.5 sq km. Most parents were out of jobs for a while, and many are still struggling
Samya Korde is an enigma. Having grown up near Mumbai's globally famous Dharavi slum, she spends a lot of her time there — one day you may find her arguing with school authorities to allow slum kids whose parents hadn't paid their fees, attend online classes. On another, you might find her vociferously batting for better menstrual hygiene among the young women there. These days, she's got tabs on her plate — distributing them to kids who need them to attend classes online, as the pandemic doesn't seem keen to let up anytime soon.
And that's all in a day's (or probably week's) work for the 21-year-old student-turned activist.
Having seen how people in Dharavi live — most of her childhood memories are tucked in different corners of the slum — she says that have immense self-respect, there is no sympathy needed and that their problems need to be understood and addressed. Especially during a pandemic that has left them largely bereft of jobs and income.
That political leaning
“Because of my father’s background, social issues were part of daily conversations at home since childhood,” Korde explains. But it took the aftershock of the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar from the University of Hyderabad, to spark her interest in student activism, “That and the JNU sedition row made me realise why my socio-political opinions matter,” she says.
She is the president of the Students' Union of the Peasants and Workers Party of India, while her father is the offical secretary of the same party. Having done her undergrad studies in Political Science at Ramnarain Ruia College, she is now angling for a postgrad degree in law. When asked if she has political ambitions, she says, “Meaningful, large-scale changes come through the system. I am not aiming for it, but neither am I opposed to it.”
At the moment though, one of the largest problems that children in Dharavi are facing is a lack of devices to attend online classes on. And so, Korde is volunteering with the Centre for Transforming India to distribute 500 tabs, as part of the NGO's School on Tabs project in a tie-up with the Dharavi foundation. “The tabs are being distributed to children in Class 5 to Class 10. We have distributed 50 tabs as of now. The process has been slow because of COVID restrictions,” she says.
And how have the kids reacted to these tablets? “The children were very happy on seeing a tab,” Korde says. In fact, so invested are the families in their kids' education that they keep money aside for that monthly data recharge. The tabs distributed are designed solely for educational purposes. “Children were a little disappointed to learn that the tab only has 1GB of RAM, which meant no gaming,” she says with a laugh.
When COVID crippled Dharavi
The people in the area have had probably the worst two years of their lives, she says. “There are leather industry workers here, there are potters here, there is a small garment industry where women of Dharavi go to cut threads, some women design rakhis at home,” she says. “Autorickshaw and taxi drivers live here, it is home to contractual labourers and domestic helpers. Most people who live here work in the unorganised sector,” she adds. As per government estimates, there are around 57,000 families living in Dharavi, which is spread across 2.5 sq km.
Korde says most parents were out of jobs for a while, and many are still struggling to pay their children’s school fees. “People tell me that it has just been hand-to-mouth for two years. And that too because others distributed ration supplies there from time to time,” she says.
Getting schools to be more empathetic
It really gets to her when some families in the area complain to her that their child isn’t allowed to attend online classes because the fees remain unpaid. “This is not always the case. Some local schools cooperate once they understand the situation families are in,” she says.
Nafeesa Asif Khan (35) is a mother of two, her younger one is a six-year-old and her elder child is in Class 8. She works in a garment factory nearby, and her husband is a porter. "We only have one phone at home, and I used to keep it at home for my son's online classes instead of taking it with me to work. We received a tab for my son a month ago, and it has been of great help," she says. Her son enjoys Mathematics, but his result has been withheld by the school as they haven't paid the fees. "They denied him entry to the online classes this year. It was only after Samya intervened that the school agreed to receive the fees in small instalments, now that my work has resumed," she said
Menstrual awareness and much more
On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, she and her team of six were educating girls in the area about how to take care of themselves during the monthly cycle. “Even though old women in the area were not very open to it, we got a lot of response from the young college-going girls,” she says.
Miles to go before she sleeps, for sure.