ASER 2017 ‘Beyond Basics’ in West Bengal

by Zerah Rongong, MME Associate

A 3 hour road/ferry journey from Kolkata to Bakkhali marked the beginning of my ASER 2017 ‘Beyond Basics’ journey in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas. South 24 Parganas is one of the largest and one of the most backward districts in the country. Two partner organizations were mobilized to cover 60 villages of this district. My interactions with the youth of this district gave me an insight into the ground realities of their lives.

It so happened that the day I chose to spend a day in one of the villages to get to know the youth better, rain decided to play spoilsport. The pilot village I ventured into bore a deserted look, and the realization hit that finding youth to speak to and survey would be quite the task. The livelihood of this village was largely dependent on fisheries farms, and the little fish stalls that had sprung up on the city-limits. A couple of ‘no-response’ households and a lot of incessant knocking later, the Mondal household welcomed me into their home.

The Mondal family consisted of Kapil and Kritika (both of whom were within our target age-group),their parents and grandparents. The sole earner of the family was their father, and his income is enough to support the basic daily needs of the family members. He has a small shop in the city and is part of a small musical group. I got the opportunity to interact with both the youth in the household.

18-year-old Kapil Mondal (name changed), is studying in 1st year in a college about 15 kms away from his village. Not located too far from the city, Kapil has access to the internet and is quite familiar with the workings of social media. He loves playing football and is a huge supporter of the local city club.

Studies don’t interest him much, but he is aware that without a degree he cannot succeed in life. He told me that he is still very uncertain as to what he would do after he graduates. He then causally added that he would like to work in a government/private office after completing his studies.

Kapil also works part-time at the local fishery farm during his free time to lend a helping hand to his family financially.

Kapil’s younger sister 14-year-old Kritika Mondal (name changed) studies in Std 9 in the village high school. History is her favourite subject she told me, and she enthusiastically added that she had never missed a single period this year. She loves taking part in stage plays/drams in school, listening to Bengali music and singing, but also suffers from stage fright. Unlike her brother, she does not have access to computer and mobile phones, and is not familiar with the internet.

In contrast to her brother, she had a very clear goal – “I want to become a school teacher”, she told me. She said that one of her teachers at school on her role model, and she wants to follow in her footsteps. Kritika had not shared her goal with her parents however, as she was not sure whether her parents would be supportive of her decisions.

Other than Kapil and Kritika, I had the chance to interact with various other youth during the course of ASER 2017 ‘Beyond Basics’ survey. An overall picture became apparent to me, that boys were generally were less concerned about career goals, and were more focused on earning by doing some part time work (whatever it may be). Girls on the other hand were more clear about their ambitions and goals, but most of them keep it to themselves and are waiting for a chance (which happens very rarely) to fulfil their aspirations.

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