In 2016, when IAS officer Danish Ashraf took charge as the District Magistrate of Upper Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh, his wife, Ruhi, was setting foot in the district for the first time. They were at Chandigarh previously.
Created in 1980, this mountainous terrain derives its name from the river Subansiri. It has snow-capped mountains ranging 7000-18000 ft (above sea level) on one side and is mostly covered with dense forests rich in flora and fauna.
Spread across 7,032 sq km, it has a population of 83,448 across 551 villages and a literacy rate of 63.96 per cent.
It would be safe to say that this district, inhabited by three major tribes—the Tagin, the Nyishi, and the Galp—is considered to be one of the remotest and most backward districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
With bad road connectivity, even worse internet connection and no railway lines, the nearest airport is almost 10 hours away. In the monsoons, the same route takes 14 hours.
Speaking to The Better India, Ruhi recalls being told that despite several officers being posted to the district, none of their wives have ever stayed in the DM bungalow, due to its remoteness.
But Ruhi, an electronics engineer who quit her job to stay with her husband, decided she would find a way to help the town.
The husband-wife duo travels through the town, shedding light on the dilapidated condition of the government school. It was a matter of time when a group of class 12 students from the Government Higher Secondary School in Daporijo (the district headquarters) walked into Danish’s office, in need of a physics teacher.
For five years, they had no teacher for the subject.
“It was almost the middle of the academic year and time was running out. Finding a teacher right away would be an uphill task. Even the teachers who were posted couldn’t teach due to the remoteness of the area. My husband was the district magistrate, so it was his responsibility to find a solution quickly. So when he turned to me for help, I stepped in. It was as if I had finally found a way to contribute to the town and its people.”
Thanks to Ruhi’s voluntary service and passion for teaching, 74 of the 92 students passed! This was a leap of 80 per cent from the past year when only 17 students (21 per cent) had cleared the subject!
When Ruhi started teaching, she realised that the students were talented and only required guidance. A week into the class, she observed that their understanding of basic concepts was unclear since they had been studying without a teacher for five years.
She accepted the challenge and started teaching them concepts from classes 8-12. Since time was short, she even made notes in simple language and used a projector to display interactive animated videos.
Due to the poor internet connectivity, she would download a collection of videos in her hometown in Delhi and play them in class. She also used superhero clips to explain concepts like gravity and momentum.
One of the students, Saurav, who came second in class, says, “Her teaching was different from everyone else. She would explain every concept clearly by breaking it down, no matter how much time it took. She ensured that even the weakest student in the class understood what was being taught. She would ask us to solve equations on the board, and when we answered them correctly, she would motivate us with chocolates. She also made handmade notes and question banks. I only referred to her notes and scored 77! After a class test, she even distributed gifts to the top ten scorers. She truly has been a catalyst who motivated us at each step and helped us improve.”
In addition, Ruhi also made a WhatsApp group for students to clear their doubts. Even if a question were posted at 2 am, she answered it for them. Her efforts bore fruit when the results were declared.
After a lecture on the functioning of an electroscope, one of the students even made an electroscope from aluminium foil and plastic bottles the following day.
“It was beautiful to see the children excel. The happiness on their faces gave me a sense of purpose, and I count it among the biggest achievements of my life,” she beams.
When Ruhi was bestowed an honorarium of Rs 40,000, she refused to take it and donated it to the school’s welfare. She is hopeful that it will help improve the infrastructure and get better benches for the students.
In a final message to homemakers, the teacher says, “I had read a report which said that Indian homemakers are the most overqualified demographic groups in the world. I am an electronic engineer, but quitting my job to stay with my husband was my choice. However, when you stay at home, you are unaware of the surroundings; life can become stagnant and cause you to lose confidence. After taking up teaching, I enjoyed a higher sense of self-respect. It helped boost my confidence and personality, and put my education to better use. Even if every homemaker takes a few hours of her day to give back to society, imagine how better India will become!”
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Ruhi on firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)