The Story of Janishala

THE STORY OF JANISHALA:
AMIDST GENDERED EDUCATION AND CREATING LEARNING POSSIBILITIES

by Purnima

Janishala was started by Nirantar in 2008, in Mehroni block of Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Janishala was part of Sahjani Shiksha Kendra, Nirantar’s field intervention in the area of women’s education and empowerment. Learners at the Janishala were between 14 to 25 years of age and came from Dalit and Adivasi communities. Early marriage, along with poverty, hard labour, violence and migration, marked the lives of the young Janishala learners, as a result of which they have either not been able to complete their primary education or have had poor quality of education. A residential space like the Janishala enabled learners to engage with education in a focussed and intensive manner. It also helped quicken the pace of learning.

Such an intervention is significant in a context where out-of-school young women have no opportunity or platform to further their education. Janishala addresses this gap by focussing on quality of education and catering to the needs of women with different levels of learning. It also prepares learners for middle-school learning and mainstream examinations. The Janishala curriculum focuses on skills, technology empowerment, local knowledge and context. The five themes included in the curriculum cut across subject areas; these were Body, Media, Samaaj (Society), Bazaar (Market) and Jal, Jungle aur Zameen (Water, Forest and Land).

A critical analysis of issues of patriarchy and caste informs the entire Janishala curriculum. Unconventional areas/themes such as body and media were included in the curriculum for the first time. A focus on ‘body’ facilitates a deeper and holistic understanding of health and sexuality from a rights framework. The ‘media’ theme also provides access to news, information and technology; domains that have traditionally been the stronghold of upper caste, educated men. In these profiles, learners narrated moments of joy and happiness of coming to a residential school, the negotiations they had to make in order to come there, their achievements of learning about their bodies, questioning gender stereotypes and learning about a world beyond their own.

Sharda

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When Sharda came to the Janishala, she was 12 years old; amongst the youngest and smallest girls in the centre. She came with a big group of girls from her village. Within the first two months, the others left;she was the only one that stayed. She had already cleared her Class 8 exam and had been enrolled in a mainstream school. She barely ever attended classes,struggling to identify letters, leave alone stringing a sentence together. Her parents were very supportive of her studying in the Janishala, but were very poor. So Sharda herself worked hard to earn the money to pay the small fee.

Once at Janishala, it was as if the padhai (study) bug had bitten her – she couldn’t get enough of the stories in the language sessions and  the ‘big sums’ in the numeracy sessions. What excited her most were the sessions on media, especially technical skills such as videography and computers. Sheonce said, with a shy glint in her eyes, that she was the “best in class”, and wanted to learn more. She was later selected to participate in a workshop on ‘new media’ in Banda, where she sharpened her Internet, video and photo skills, until she was quite the filmmaker! Her only regret was not having learnt enough English at the Janishala to send emails. She said she made friends, both with learners and teachers, at Janishala than anywhere else, and felt lonely when she went back home! She also missed, more than anything, the padhai at the Janishala. She said after being at the Janishala, she was able to think about herself and her future for the first time. After she finished 8 months at the Janishala and passed her Class 8 exam again, she enrolled in Class 9, staying on at Janishala. She managed to keep off pressure from her family to get married till she was 16 and passed her high school exam, leaving Mehroni with the determination to study further, and someday work in a DTP shop of her own.

Girja

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It was virtually impossible to distract Girja when she was in the numeracy session, with one baby in her lap and the other one pulling at her hair. “Lakshmi, my eldest daughter, asked me why her mother is studying in school now.So I said I am studying, like you are in school. So Lakshmi asked, didn’t your mother make you study, like you make me? I said no; my mother never studied, so now I am studying on my own.”

Girja never went to school, but attended the SSK centre in her marital home, Sojna basti, occasionally. “There was always work to do, and my husband would hardly ever let me go. I wouldn’t have been able to study if I was at home, there were too many problems.” After years of domestic trouble, being abandoned by her husband over and over, and living on her own, Girja was determined to immerse herself in the Janishala experience and make the most of it. She says she has to fend for herself and her three daughters, and for this, studying further is imperative. She doesn’t feel conscious of being older than most of the girls – even when she hears rumours carried back from girls in her village, about how she has broken up a home and is studying at such a late age. “I’ve tried to keep the home together for long enough. Now it’s time to take my life in my own hands.”

Girja mostly enjoys the numeracy session, and although she cannot compare the Janishala pedagogy or curriculum with any other school, she says the combination of padhai and building an understanding and getting information on so many things is really good – it should be the only way of learning! Her favourite activity is on sexuality, as part of the Body theme, where they were asked what food people liked, and everyone liked something different. Even talking about feeling shy as a woman, and how different it would feel if they were all men, she says was interesting.

She feels quite sad about life after Janishala. She knows that between working on the fields and doing labour between agricultural seasons, it will be hard for her to study further. The closest school to her home is quite far, and there is no transport to reach there. She will have to take care of the children herself too. She would like to take tuitions in the evenings, but she knows it will be hard to afford it. Still, she thinks that some of the information she will take away from the Janishala will make her life better, more informed, more empowered.

While Janishala has provided tremendous potential for the growth of learners, it has also been a space where teachers coming from a similar context have been exposed to new ideas, concepts and learnings. Such educational spaces not only create literacy opportunities but also enable perspective building so that learners can develop critical thinking in terms of their own life and not just operate from the ideas of socialisation and conditioning.

Nirantar works on gender, sexuality, education, and women’s literacy from a feminist perspective, with a focus on the inter-linkages between class, caste, sexuality, and religion.

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