"I have two elder sisters who were brilliant in studies. Sadly, they were were married off when they were in Class 9. It was heartbreaking to see how their marriages turned out. It scared me, but it also pushed me to work harder and do better."
For 18-year-old Nidhi Kannaujia, delving deep into the pages of her books allowed her the much needed exodus from the pressing realities around her.
Every night, once the entire family was asleep, she left the warmth of her blanket around 3 o’clock; tiptoed to fetch her book, sat in a corner with her study lamp, and silently turned the pages to prepare for her Boards. When there was no electricity in the area, she even had to study under the street light.
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Living in a one-room-house in an urban slum with six people, this girl personifies hard work that eventually earned her a 95 per cent in the CBSE board Class 12 exams this year.
“This is better. I remember how I sat under a street light during the night (before the exams), to finish and revise my coursework, because we didn’t have electricity in our area,” says Nidhi, who overcame extreme economic challenges to shine as the brilliant star she is.
However, she prefers to reserve the term, ‘brilliant’ for her sisters.
“I have two elder sisters, who were extremely brilliant in studies. Sadly, they were not allowed to complete education and were married off when they were in Class 9. It was disappointing and heart-breaking to see how their marriages turned out. Sometimes it scared me, but as a whole, it pushed me to work harder and do better, so that I am able to avoid it,” she added.
Owing to her exemplary academic record, the fear of being denied education is long gone now. She says that her parents, once conservatives, believed in marrying daughters early instead of investing in their education, but now they have changed. They want Nidhi to continue with her education as long as she wants.
“My sisters had to sacrifice a lot due to our financial state, and I didn’t want to succumb as well,” she adds expressing her fear.
Nidhi is originally from a small village Harakh, near Barabanki city of Uttar Pradesh.
Her Father, like many before him, migrated from the village to the city of Lucknow in search of a job, 20 years ago, and since then has been working as a washerman. Nidhi was 2 months old when she was brought to the city along with the rest of the family.
Her eldest sister, Ritu (27) was married when she was in Class 9, and unfortunately her husband, an alcoholic, made their marriage difficult to sustain. After a point of time, Ritu decided to rise above her fate and came back to her parents to resume education. Now she is pursuing her BA and hopes to get a job soon.
“Ritu didi inspires me a lot. The way she fought her hardships to reclaim her right to education, has pushed me to do better, and has also changed the perspective of my parents. Now my parents and my sisters are a constant support to my ambitions,” she states proudly.
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A consistent topper in her educational institution, Prerna’s Girls’ School, her academic leaps were soon noticed by Dr Urvashi Sahni, president and CEO of Study Hall Educational Foundation, who decided to transfer her on scholarship to Study Hall School when she was in Class 4, in 2010.
“It was a changing point in my life when I moved schools. Prerna was good but the exposure in Study Hall School was much more, and it was a great opportunity which my family and I could never have imagined. It was a privilege to study in such a prestigious school,” she says.
Riddled with obstacles
“Unlike my previous school, Study Hall was an English medium school with majority of its students coming from well-to-do families. Fitting into that atmosphere was difficult at first. One of the first problems was of language. My English wasn’t that great and from a topper in Prerna, my grades fell to average here. But, thanks to the teachers and a few friends, I was able to overcome my limitations,” adds Nidhi.
After years of hard work, long study hours and perseverance, Nidhi finally regained the position of a topper in the school, and maintained the same level of excellence in the boards, earning a whopping 95 per cent in Class 12.
Owing to this, she cracked the Vahani Scholarship by earning 10 per cent more than the prerequisite, thus further reducing the pressure of educational expenses on her parents. “I want to grow up to be a strong and independent woman who can bring about the needed change in the society,” says Nidhi.
An aspiring IAS officer who dreams of improving and reforming the education sector of India by making it accessible to all, young Nidhi hopes to get an admission in History or Political science honours in colleges under Delhi University.
Nidhi’s grit to achieve her dream, no matter the obstacles, is an inspiring example for many her age and beyond.
Kudos to you, Nidhi!
(Edited By Saiqua Sultan)