As an infant, Bharti Kumari was abandoned at a railway station in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. Now, at the age of 12, she has become the head teacher at a school in Kusumbhara, her adopted village. Every morning and evening, under the shade of a mango tree, she teaches Hindi, English and maths to 50 village children who would otherwise receive no education. In between, she attends a state school in Akhodhi Gola, a two-mile walk away. Dressed proudly in her school uniform, she passes on the knowledge gleaned from her lessons to the village children, aged between four and 10, in her own class. “I have a long day. My school is from 10am to 3pm and I study late,” she said. “This is what I love doing. I enjoy teaching children their ABCs as well as the Hindi alphabets.”
Kusumbhara is a poverty-stricken village 87 miles from Patna, the state capital. Most families are Dalits, India’s lowest social group, and they live in fear of Maoist insurgents waging a terror campaign against the security forces. In the past four months 30 schools and community buildings have been blown up by the rebels. “How will we get educated if we’re scared?” asked Bharti, appealing to the government to build a proper school in the village. Her pupils are among the 10 million Indian children who are outside the state education system because their parents are so poor that they need them to work or no schools are nearby. Earlier this month the Indian government pledged £3.6 billion for a “right to education” scheme which aims to provide free schooling for all.
Bharti’s adoptive father, Rampati, an impoverished farmhand, said he would not follow the rural tradition of pushing girls into early marriages but would allow her to continue her studies. Her future career has already been decided. “I definitely want to become a teacher when I grow up,” she said.
Should not we, leading far more comfortable lives, be doing much more for others?