17-year-old Anju Verma, a resident of Daulatpur village in Haryana is championing the cause of girl-child education, and working tirelessly to help village children in the state have a childhood they deserve — full of fun with school friends, and ample time to study and play.
And it all started with a one-month ordeal at her aunt’s place which opened her eyes to the discrimination girls face in their houses.
Once she realised that children in her village are suffering in silence, the teenager solicited help from her father and school teachers to launch Buland Udaan – an organisation working for children from ages 6 to 18.
Since it’s inception Anju and the team at Buland Udaan have enrolled 700 students into schools, stopped almost 50 child marriages, and legally intervened in 15 sexual harassment cases too.
A Summer Vacation that Changed This Haryana Girl’s Life
“All children like to spend time away from home during the summer break with extended family and as a ten-year-old, I was no different. I went to my father’s aunt with so much happiness and little did I know what awaited me,” Anju tells The Better India.
From the day she entered her aunt’s house, Anju was forced to do house chores. Her aunt would wake her at the crack of dawn and Anju’s first task was to prepare tea for 15 people. If she made a mistake, reprimands followed fast.
“Can you imagine what a ten-year-old would know to do? From cutting vegetables to cleaning the house, I was made to do all the housework. I was not even allowed to speak to my father or mother. I would even have to massage their feet every day and be ready whenever I was called upon for work. I was treated like an unpaid servant,” recalls Anju.
The one lesson that they forced her to learn was—All girls have to do this and she was no different.
Not only was Anju hurt at the treatment meted out to her, but she was also enraged at the way she was discriminated against based on her gender.
The Onset of Change in Haryana
Once Anju came back from her aunt’s place, she became acutely aware and attentive to her surroundings. She started noticing that many girls in her class would be pulled up regularly for not completing their home-work. When she asked one of her classmates for the reason, the truth hit her hard.
No girl was safe.
“The girls told me that they went back home and took over the house-work and had almost no time or energy after that to sit down and study,” she says.
Anju realised she had lucked out as her parents never put any restrictions on her studying, or made her do any housework.
The gritty girl then started questioning the parents of her friends and tried to make them aware about the burden they were putting on their daughters. But it was hard. Though she found a lot of reluctance and even scorn, she kept going forward.
Anju attributes her courage to her father, Rajendra Kumar, who always believed in giving good education to his daughter and encouraged her in all her endeavours.
A Teacher turns Mentor
“It was during my conversation with my teacher, Gurmail Singh Binder, that I came across the term ‘child labour’ for the first time. I was made to understand that what was happening with my friends would fall under it and that it was an offence punishable by law.”
After finding about the child labour, Anju approached a lot of people and informed them that if they indulged in child labour they would be fined Rs 50,000 and could also be imprisoned for upto 6 months.
“For me this knowledge felt like there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. It made me realise that a girl’s job was not confined to being at home alone.”
Anju started visiting the homes of the girls in her village to speak to the parents and at times, even sneaked out of her house so that her parents won’t find out what she was doing.
“While no one threw me out of their homes, they were far from welcoming. It was at this point that my teacher urged me to speak to the village panchayat and get this issue addressed. That helped to a great extent since the panchayat took it upon themselves to ensure that things in the village for girls improved,” she informs.
Inception of Buland Udaan
Anju has been trying to help people for 6 years. In 2017, she established Buland Udaan to bring about a change in mind-set and provide assistance to those in need.
“It took me a while to educate the villagers about child labour. For instance, I would often tell them that asking their daughters to make a cup of tea or feed the cattle was not child labour, but dumping excessive house work on them was not acceptable and would be classified as child labour,” she says.
The organisation now has almost 70 volunteer members—primarily consists of school students—who help Anju. When asked how she manages to finance the organisation, she shares, “The primary donor is my father, who sets aside money from his income each month. He is a truck driver and even if he makes Rs 20,000 a month, he sets aside almost Rs 10,000 each month for me. Imagine how many children’s lives he is impacting through the organisation.”
Each Sunday, Buland Udaan members conduct a door-to-door campaign asking people if they need help.
“This work is very difficult – especially in today’s day and age when no one is willing to come forward and help and here we are urging people to seek our help every Sunday. What we are doing is truly ground level work and not something that runs on any social media platform,” shares Anju.
“These girls who were kept within their homes were all like imprisoned birds and with just a little space they found their wings to fly,” smiles Anju as we conclude our conversation.
A teenager with her heart in the right place and a social conscious of huge proportions, Anju Verma is girl destined to bring big change.
If you wish to reach out to Anju and help her organisation grow, you can visit Buland Udaan’s Facebook page here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)