Friday, September 30, 2011

The Kodekasa Kanyashram

The village is set in a valley, green and verdant now at the end of the monsoon, and as you look down from the top of the road, the houses are to the left, and the various institutions to the right – first is the middle school set in a large ground, then the sub-centre, the panchayat office, and the primary school with the anganwadi in the same compound. Kodekasa is a panchayat headquarters village and the road that runs through it is in a good state of repair.

We had come to meet the ANM who lives at the subcentre here, but she is away to visit her mother who is unwell. We met the Mitanin there, a cheerful woman who has been working as a mitanin for the past ten years. We are now headed back to Dalli and I stop for a last look at the village.

I am standing outside a building surrounded by a wall, with nothing outside to indicate what it is. Only the numerous clothes drying on the wall tells me that it may be a hostel of some sort. Dr Prathap who is with me in the jeep says he would like to see if anyone there has fever (this being the start of the malaria season), and he and the driver set off inside while Temin the nurse and I wait on the roadside enjoying the sun.

They are back in a couple of minutes: it is a girls’ hostel, they say. Temin and I go inside to meet the staff and students. We are able to walk right in, through the gate, through the front door, into the dormitory, into another large room with a water cooler installed (there is no running water in the hostel), and I glimpse more rooms beyond.

The entrance to the dormitory has pictures of Gandhi and Ambedkar on it. To the right is a small board stating this is the Kodekasa Kanyashram (Girls’ Hostel), with an intake capacity of 50 boarders. To its left is a large board giving details of the number of students there. At present there are 30 of them. No other details of whom to contact, who is in charge, no name of the warden, nothing.

My knocking on the door brings three girls out from somewhere inside, and they are soon joined by some of their friends. Today being a holiday, they are not in the middle school fifty yards away.

The dormitory is large and airy, but poorly maintained, and has twelve neatly made beds in two rows. At the far end of the hall is a row of tables with six computers on them. I am impressed and ask whether they know how to use them. No, they say, the computers are out of order. Since when? I ask. The oldest resident there has been in the hostel for three years, and the computers were already there and not functioning at that time, she replies. I ask for their warden – there is no one here, they reply. Has she gone home as it is a holiday? No, there is no warden.

Who takes care of you?

There is Ahilyabai the cook, they reply. Temin goes in search of Ahilyabai, fails to find any adult in the place.

Meanwhile, I try to start the computers – none of the UPS units are functioning, nor are the computers. Understandably, the tables are left alone and everything is coated with dust and cobwebs. There is electricity though.

Some of the computers at the kanyashram.

There are 30 of us girls here, they reply to my question. I ask if there is another dormitory as I count only 12 beds here.

No, they say, all of us sleep here, the smaller ones are 2 or 3 to a bed. We join the beds together at night so that no one falls off.

The dormitory - 12 beds for 30 girls

They attend the middle school that is next to the hostel.

What happens when you fall sick?We go to the village and call our parents and then we go home, they reply.

Don’t you see the ANM who lives here?No.

Don’t you ask the Mitanin to give you some medicines?No, we just go home.

How far is home? Quite far. If we are very sick, our parents come and get us, otherwise we go by ourselves.

Who do I have to ask if I want to get someone to repair the computers?Thakur sir.

Where does he live?In Lohara.

Lohara is at least 10 km from here. No,they don't have his phone number.

The girls are happy that someone has visited, but are shy to talk. I am wary of asking probing questions in case they get into trouble for talking to a stranger. They want a picture taken with the nurse. Temin and I then leave, with all the girls crowded at the gate and waving to us. Just past the bend in the road after the hostel, barely 50 feet away, is a small shop: cycle-repair and petty shop in one, and at this moment there are five young men sitting there and talking.

I leave with many questions in my mind. Who is supposed to be in charge here? Surely there cannot be a residential school for young girls with only the cook who may and may not be there all the time? What about security – all four of us in the jeep could walk in unchallenged. What if some men decide to walk in and harass the girls or worse? Who do they turn to for help? What if one of them has an accident or falls ill – no first aid or simple medication available there? And what about the budget – if the stated capacity is for 50 boarders, surely there must be a provision to purchase 50 cots and mattresses for them? Who purchased the computers, or was it a donation of used ones? Who set it up and why did no one come to check that they have not been working for at least three years? Obviously their parents would like them to study beyond primary school – after all, that is what many of us say is the basic requirement for empowerment of women. Is this what the state offers them?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


i was conducting a training for nurses in sarguja district last week at a place called kakna, 18 km from ambikapur. the night train between durg and ambikapur takes about eight hours from usalapur (near bilaspur) to get there, but the journey was comfortable.

my brief glimspe of ambikapur left me wide-eyed: a huge bustling market, good roads (no significant potholes at least in the market areas and the centre of town, unlike in bilaspur which is one endless series of potholes of varying dimensions all over the city), and large showrooms with branded products. when i worked here, first in 1987 for a year, then in 1992-93, it was much smaller, without a rail-head. traveling to ambikapur meant an eight hour bumpy bus-ride from bilaspur, with at least two punctures guaranteed on the way. both towns were still part of madhya pradesh at that time.

kakna is a silent haven, a lush green valley ringed by hills with no internet access, and poor cellphone connectivity. a perfect place for training. the only downside was the prolonged powercuts but an inverter ensured that the projector and laptop could be used without interruption. keeping the 25 nuns and myself company on the campus were kajal and kalloo the dogs, and changoo the kitten. it rained practically incessantly, with occasional spectacular thunder and lightning thrown it for good measure.

the RAHA centre at kakna is a perfect place for a retreat or for solitude if one wants to write a book. unfortunately i do not have any photographs to share.