The Nirmal Bharat Yatra I Love My Daughter The story of a cook in an Indore school and an exemplary mother

India Water Portal
Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 10:30

 Pooja with the apple of her eye, five year old Akansha

Pooja with the apple of her eye, Akansha

‘Poverty doesn’t make me a lesser mother in any way,” says Pooja, 26, married , a mother of two, a six year old son who goes to an English medium school and five year old daughter, Akansha who studies in the same government school at Indore where Pooja works as a cook to prepare mid-day meal for the children. It’s 11 a.m in a weekday and the kitchen in the school is full of activity as lunch made of rotis, sabji and dal is being prepared by four women. The mid-day meal is a government run program where children are provided with one meal in the school. This program is a boon for the poor who send their children to these government schools through which child nutrition, their attendance in school and education are ensured. Pooja works here for a paltry sum of Rs. 1000 a month.

I met Pooja on my visit to the school where we were conducting a special training for the teachers in the school on how to impart awareness to adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene management.Nirmal Bharat Yatra has planned strategies to make inroads to community perception of water, sanitation and hygiene. We reached out to remote villages, schools and teacher community to break the ice of stigma, ignorance and misinformation. Like most parts of India Indore too has issues of water, sanitation and hygiene. I spent time walking around the campus and got talking to the four women who cook here. What struck me about Pooja was the way she introduced herself.

She addressed her daughter as ‘gudia’ which means ‘a doll’ in Hindi and is most rarely used for a daughter in a country which prefers a son. Ironically speaking it came as a blow to me as I had been doing research on the child sex ration in India for months and had come across heart wrenching accounts of how mother’s do not resist sex selective abortions justifying that they could not see the plight of their daughters later on, the ill treatment, the low status, dowry and discrimination all their lifes.The child sex ratio is the worst affected in the states of Punjab and Haryana where it stands less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys. However Pooja was certainly not one such woman. She was different. She told me, “I love my daughter a lot. I can do anything for her because I don’t know what will happen to her when she grows up and gets married. I would rather give her all the happiness while she is still with me. I believe rearing up a child is best done not with money as understood by most, but by love from a parent. Who knows if my daughter goes to a house where her husband doesn’t earn enough! In such uncertainty, my love for my daughter is all that is in my control.”

I was taken aback by the strength of this humble young woman and dazed by her goodness of spirit. From the way she smiled at the mere mention of her daughter, I knew here was one woman who was an exemplary mother.

Pooja’s husband is a laborer who stands in the market everyday early morning, at a point from where daily wage laborers are picked up for work by prospective employers. There is no certainty of getting work. On those days he doesn’t find work he returns empty handed. “We often have to go hungry on these days,” Pooja says. He manages to earn Rs 1800-2000 a month if he finds work for atleast 15 days and not less but Pooja says it’s never been like he has worked all the days in the month or earned more than this.”We are very poor,” she says, “We live in a rented house and pay Rs 1000 per month for it. Out of our meager earnings a large chunk goes to paying rent. What is left is not enough for us.”

Pooja picks up Akansha who runs out of her classroom in her lunch break. Collecting the little girl in her arms Pooja says on a serious note, “In the five years of her life ask my daughter if I have as much as slapped her once or hit her. If we only beat our daughters what should we expect the world to do to our daughters?”

Akansha is a beautiful, healthy and a happy girl. Her mother is her protection. Pooja is an exemplary mother.

Akansha in her class room in a government school in Indore (Madhya Pradesh)

Little Akansha in her classroom in Indore, Madhya Pradesh

By Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal, Arghyam

For full coverage by India Water Portal of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.