Like many kids her age, Laxmi, a student of Class 9 in Rajasthan’s Churu village wants to become a cop when she grows up. Unlike most of them, it is because she is determined to ensure that others do not face the same atrocities that she did.
Laxmi’s father is bed-ridden, and her mother is the sole breadwinner at home, and barely manages to earn Rs 3,000 every month. Until three years ago, she would continuously skip classes in school to do odd jobs for an extra source of income.
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And then one day, when she was washing dishes at a local dhaba, she crossed paths with police constable Dharmveer Jakhar, and her life changed.
To begin with, Jakhar called child services and reported about the unlawful practice. But his intervention didn’t stop there.
Laxmi started attending extra classes in Apni Pathshala, a free school started by Jakhar for underprivileged kids in 2016. For students from Class 1 to 5, Apni Pathshala is an informal school, and for students above class 6, it provides extra classes.
He also provided temporary financial relief to her mother through donations made by his colleagues in the force.
Thanks to Jakhar, close to 500 children from poverty-stricken households in the village have been saved from forced labour, begging, falling in illegal rackets and registered in Apni Pathshala or reinstated in schools.
Ensuring The Right to Education
Jakhar grew up with the dream of becoming a school teacher even though his family didn’t think of education as a big deal.
After completing his education in Hindi Literature, he attempted to acquire a B.Ed. degree to kickstart his career in teaching. Unfortunately, he couldn’t clear the final exam, and financial strain in the family pushed him to look for a job.
“Unemployment was leading me nowhere, and circumstances pushed me to join the police force. I got busy in my daily routine, but somewhere, I still longed to be a teacher,” he begins in a conversation with The Better India.
The dream came alive when he decided to start an informal school in a slum.
“I would get upset while seeing children in slums loitering around. The ultimate goal of their families is to earn money, so as soon as the children reach a certain age, they are told to earn a living. How is that okay? They might have been ignorant, but I was not. Basic education is every child’s right,” Jakhar shares.
He began by teaching seven children in a small room. “In the beginning, it was tough to assess the attention of the children and their parents’ trust. So, I would only tell them stories, and once attendance became more regular, I switched to textbooks.”
The steady stream of children pushed Jakhar to consider moving to a new space. With minimal resources at his disposal and a full-time job, dedicating a room or building was not feasible for the constable, so he did the next best thing.
The 35-year-old requested his seniors to allocate space in a police-owned building close to the police station, and it was granted with full unanimity.
“Children flock in and out of the premises throughout the day. Other women constables and I take turns to teach them,” Jakhar informs TBI.
To prevent children from dropping out of school, Jakhar has designated a van to provides a free pick-up and drop service. This step also made an impact as children living far away started attending Apni Pathshala.
“The Gajsar Hanumanghadi slum is located four kilometres away from Churu, and many children told us that this was one reason why they took to begging instead of attending the government school. I was happy to know that the van service had made a difference,” he says.
Jakhar also makes home visits if students remain absent for more than 2-3 days.
“There was a boy in Class 5 who suddenly stopped coming to school. His parents refused to meet me when I visited them, and the neighbours informed me that he had started working as a kabadiwala. I had to make several visits to convince them, but they finally agreed. The boy not only has a keen interest in studying but also accompanies me to convince others,” he shares.
With regards to funding, Jakhar mostly relies on social media and personal appeals. He has also tied up with Muskaan, an NGO, to take care of the school’s stationery needs.
“We need close to 1.5 lakhs to meet the stationery demands and also provide afternoon meals to children every month. People have been kind enough to give donations in cash and stationery items,” says Jakhar.
A Message of Hope
Extracurricular activities and celebrating days like Children’s day and birthdays is an integral part of Apni Pathshala. Early in November this year, the students were invited as chief guests at a local wedding.
“The bride and groom’s families had contributed to our endeavour and were impressed by the school and children. So, they invited them as chief guests. It was a very heartwarming experience,” shares Jakhar.
Jakhar’s selfless act has even inspired locals in neighbouring villages to start similar pathshalas. One of them is Suman Choudhary, a retired teacher in Jhunjhunu district recently opened ‘Mamata ki Pathshala.’
“It has been three months since I started the school, and currently, I take classes in the slum. I really hope more and more people come forward for this noble effort,” Suman tells TBI.
Jakhar hopes that the concept of Apni Pathshala spreads across the country so that every child gets access to education.
If you wish to contribute to Dharamveer Jakhar’s mission, click here.
You can also make a contribution in the name of the following account:
State Bank Of India
Account :- Muskan Sansthan Churu
Ac No.:- 37487729218
IFSC Code:- SBIN0031600
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)