Tag Archives: india

School Under a Metro Bridge

Boys read from a blackboard painted onto the walls of a metro bridge at a makeshift school in New Delhi, 8th April 2013Their classroom is outdoors in the heat and dust, its roof a rumbling metro line, blackboards painted onto a rough concrete wall but for some children of Delhi’s migrant population its the only school they have. I became aware of this humbling story through a report by photographer Altaf Qadri who re-discovered it in 2012 and brought it back to prominence. In fact the school’s founder, forty two year old Rajesh Kumar Sharma began to teach under privileged children in Delhi in 1997 and this is the third incarnation and location of his jugaad (makeshift) school.

Children study while a metro train passes overhead at the school
Children study while a metro train passes overhead at the current site of the school
Front page of the Times of India from 11th December 1997 shows Rajesh Sharma (left) and the first site of his makeshift school near the ITO flyover in Delhi
Front page of the Times of India from 11th December 1997 shows Rajesh Kumar Sharma (left) at the first site of his makeshift school near the ITO flyover in Delhi

The idea to open a school came to shop owner Sharma on a morning walk along the Yamuna river when he saw some children weeding and picking flowers. “I asked them which school they went to and they looked at me with no answer, it had not occurred to me before that not every child has access to a school’ he said. This resonated with Sharma who himself had been forced to drop out of college in his third year due to financial constraints so he decided to to offer free basic education to the children of the local labourers and farmers.

A makeshift settlement of farm labourers on the Yamuna Bank, children from settlements like this attend the makeshift school
A settlement of farm labourers on the Yamuna Bank, children from settlements like this attend the makeshift school
Rajesh Kumar Sharma looks on as children arrive at his school
Rajesh Kumar Sharma looks on as children arrive at his school

Surprisingly it was not easy convincing the children’s parents to let them attend a school and it remains one of his biggest and constant challenges today.  Because they are poor and mostly illiterate they often see no need for their children to be educated and prefer to put them to work at home and also worry about possible costs involved. Despite this at the current school up to 70 children between four and fourteen years old turn up early each weekday morning, sweep the floor clean and put down foam mats to sit on. Mr Sharma arrives around 9 am having left his shop in his brother’s hands, and with his friend Laxmi Chandra teaches them for two hours, – mainly elementary reading, writing,  arithmetic and some geometry.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma (left) and Mr Laxmi Chandra (right) teach children mainly from migrant families

Rajesh Kumar Sharma (left) and Mr Laxmi Chandra teach children mainly from migrant families in Delhi

Rajesh Kumar Sharma with Savita Kumari (12) learning words by rote
Mr Sharma helps Savita Kumari (12) and the rest of the students learn words by rote

The first time I visited the school I found it quite a moving experience to see such a thirst for knowledge, such concentration and happy tolerance of difficult conditions. Then there was a matter of fact statement from one of the children which brought a lump to my throat, “I prefer it at this school because we learn things, at the government school we just get beaten”.  Then, after a pause ” Though I wouldn’t mind the beatings if they taught us too”.

Govind (10) who wants to be a doctor studies at a blackboard
Govind (10) studies at a blackboard. He wants to be a doctor and currently sells plants from a cart
Govind (10, right who wants to be a doctor and currently sells plants from a cart) and Samnath (10)
L-R: Samnath and Govind  both 10
Dharam Pal (around 5 years old) studies
Dharam Pal (around 5 years old) studies
L-R foreground: Mamta, Savitha Kumari (12, centre) and Kunti study
L-R foreground: Mamta, Savitha Kumari (12, centre) and Kunti study
Dharam Singh (8) copies from a blackboard
Dharam Singh (8) copies from a blackboard

After the government enforced the 2009 Right to Education Act last year, which guarantees free schooling for children between the ages of 6 and 14, Mr Sharma decided to focus on preparing the children for admission to government schools and helping them to cope with the curriculum. Parents need only accompany their children to a government school to enrol but most migrant workers are fearful of doing even this as many live in illegal settlements and are therefore loathe to interact with authorities.

Ajay Kumar (7) shyly offers up his exercise book for marking
Ajay Kumar (7) offers up his exercise book for marking

After the RTE push, enrolment in state schools has increased from 193 million to 199 million, and the government has invested more than $11 billion extra dollars in upgrading the school system. Despite this schools appear to be getting worse. There remain at least 700,000 teacher vacancies, and many of those who are employed don’t have the proper training and absenteeism is rife. When teachers do turn up to the packed classes children complain they just write a problem on the board and leave. Contrast this with Mr Sharma’s school and you can see why the kids keep coming back.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma checks Dharam Pal's work
Rajesh Kumar Sharma checks Dharam Pal’s work

Initially Mr Sharma paid all of the costs of the children’s textbooks, pencils and exercise books himself but over time donations, sometimes anonymous have started to trickle in though as with the volunteers who come to help, more are needed.

Sharma says he takes each day as it comes as, operating on railway property, he could be told to stop at any time. Until then the school is a beacon of hope for marginalised children with few options,  in Mr Sharma’s words:

“To change the future of these children, education is the only weapon. If they go anywhere in the world, if they have education, they can achieve anything. And without education, they can do nothing.”

MAKESHIFT SCHOOL IN DELHI

MAKESHIFT SCHOOL IN DELHI

Mamta writes on the blackboard
Mamta writes on the blackboard
Savitha Kumari (12) erases words on the blackboard after class
Even after class children stay behind at the blackboard, Savitha Kumari (12) erases words
A boy rolls up the last of the mats at the end of class
A boy rolls up the last of the mats at the end of class
Children make their way home though market garden crops after class
Children make their way home though market garden crops after class
Veeresh Kumar (9) sits with his grandmother in the doorway of his home located on the banks of the Yamuna River while a relative cooks breakfast. His parents are market gardeners. "I want to become an engineer someday because I like numbers and I like how English sounds when I speak the words" he says
Veeresh Kumar (9) sits with his grandmother in the doorway of his home on the banks of the Yamuna River while a relative cooks breakfast. His parents are market gardeners. “I want to become an engineer someday because I like numbers and I like how English sounds when I speak the words” he says

I was first commissioned to shoot this story by The Times in London (see here) and later by The National (see here). Sources: due acknowledgement to Suryatapa Bhattacharya’s article in The National (mentioned above) and the AP article by Ravi Nessman here.

Method: all natural light, Nikon D700 and D3s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pushkar Mela 2012

A camel herder leads his charges though the desert in the early morning on the way to Pushkar Camel Fair on the 18th November 2012

After a gap of two years I went back to the Pushkar Camel fair (see my earlier post here) and found it little changed. The event still presents spine tingling opportunities for photography,  – if you can get a clean shot through hordes of like-minded ‘lensmen’.. The National have published a selection of these images on their National View blog.

Herders and their camels walk along the road to the Pushkar Horse and Camel Fair
Camel traders and camels in the early morning at the Pushkar Horse and Camel Fair
Camel traders squat around the embers of a fire in the early morning
A camel herder ties firewood to the back of a camel after camping overnight in the desert forest near Pushkar
A young camel herder cleans a drinking bowl with sand
A camel herder leads his camel through the desert as the sun comes up
Camels pass by women as they are driven through the desert to the Pushkar Horse and Camel Fair
A hot air balloon above camels in the early morning at Pushkar Mela

A man trims the ear hair of his camel at Pushkar. Traders are fanatical about the presentation of their beasts

A camel trader grooms his camel in the early morning
A horse ‘dances’ to the beat of a drum in the events arena at the Pushkar Horse and Camel Fair
Camel traders sit by their fire at dusk
A man leading his camel at dusk
Camel traders at their camp fire. ISO 5000, f4 @ 80th and noise free! The Nikon D3s low-light performance is without peer

A camel with a red nose decoration

 Method: all natural light, Nikon D700 and D3s