School, interrupted

The coronavirus pandemic presents a very real risk of girls dropping out of school in large numbers, setting back years of progress. If we are to stop the slide, we need to act now.

Creative Commons/United Nations Photo

Her family has always “believed in education,” Vidhi Kumari, 18, tells me on the phone from her home in Mangolpuri, Delhi. So even though her mother never went to school and her father, a driver, studied only up to the 10th grade, four of her five sisters are graduates, one is in the 12th grade and the youngest, a brother, is in the eighth.

Even in these extraordinary times, Vidhi tries to keep up with her online BA classes. It’s not easy. “My sister and I share a phone so when she attends her class, I miss mine, and sometimes it’s the other way around.”

With only half attendance, Vidhi is one of the lucky ones. Many girls in her neighbourhood have dropped out — someone doesn’t have a phone, another has no money for recharge and someone else had to take up paid work. “This is a slum area,” says Vidhi. “There’s a lot of financial hardship here.”

Playing touch rugby, breaking stereotypes

In a New Delhi slum in New Delhi, a group of young women and men play together and, in the process, make their city safer.

Pic courtesy: Plan India

A quiet revolution brews in a narrow lane in one of Delhi’s most unsafe localities. In Mangolpuri, a locality that registers the most number of police cases, a group of young men and women have taken charge of making their neighbourhood safer. Do streetlights work? Are there enough CCTVs? How do you rid the community park of drug addicts and gamblers who gather here after sundown?

Supported by a set of non-governmental organisations, over 500 young people who live here have conducted safety audits and taken up their concerns with the police, transport and public works department. Their goal? To build safe, accountable and inclusive cities for adolescent girls.

“In this locality, girls could not go out. On the streets, boys hung out in groups and would pass comments,” says Sonia, 14, a class 10 student. Adds Komal, 21, a graduate who is now learning stenography, “The only place I felt safe was within the four walls of my house.” In 2014, the Safer Cities Programme was launched in five cities around the world, including Cairo, Hanoi and Delhi. Two resettlement communities, Mangolpuri and Madanpur Khadar were selected, and by 2018, the programme had touched 80,000 homes in Delhi.