At the age of 12, Kowsalya, belonging to Narikuravar (Gypsy) community, was busy digging the garbage mountain looking for rotten fruits, meat, fish, chicken and used rice, roti and cooked vegetables. This was her daily routine. She did have a dream of going to school. But she had to suppress that dream due to her confinement to attend the household chores and rag picking. The Gypsy community has been living on the city’s garbage dumped in the ‘dumping yard’ close to their colony in Puducherry. Usually the Gypsy families do not send their children to schools but they make their children to go for rag picking and begging. For the Gypsy community, making children to do rag picking and begging are not crime but an income. As soon as the girl children attain puberty, they are forced to get married and it is their strict and mandatory custom. One of the important reasons is that at the time of marriage the bridegroom has to give dowry to the girl’s family. Hence girl child marriage is a profitable event for the girl’s family. Moreover, the parents feel relieved from the burden of caring their daughters after marriage.
At the young age of 12, Kowsalya had never imagined that she would be married off soon. When she got the hint of her marriage and that too with much older man, she refused to budge in. Her parents threatened that they will expel her from the community. At that critical stage something happened. A few minutes before the forced marriage, she was saved by a local NGO named Samugam Trust which is a non-profit, community-based organization committed to the education of the underprivileged children, empowerment of the socially and economically ostracized people, the rehabilitation of Leprosy patients and the differently-abled persons.
Kowsalya’s rescue was a turning point in her life. At that stage, Samugam Trust intervened and persuaded her parents to allow her to study. After long and continued motivation, her parents permitted her to live in Jaly Girls’ Home run by the NGO. After getting a new lease of life, she decided to undertake formal education with the support of the NGO. At the age of 13 she joined class 8 directly under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. She struggled hard to cope-up with the syllabus and showed good results. Highly interested in academics she scored close to 75% marks in class 10 examinations. She is now doing her second year Nursing and Midwifery Course in a reputed Medical College in Puducherry. Soon her dream of becoming a nurse will come true. She will get the honour of being the first person to have completed higher education from the Gypsy communities living in the Puducherry Union Territory.
In order to reach this height, she had to fight with all odds. She overcame all types of stigma and obstacles with great Will power. Kowsalya was born and brought up in a very unhygienic condition in the Gypsy colony. All types of unhygienic methods were followed during pre-natal and post-natal stages in her community. Keeping the body, home and surrounding clean is beyond their imagination. The thought of unhealthy practices in her community was predominant in her mind while she was doing her formal education. In order to change this situation, she decided to become a qualified nurse. Hence she opted for a 3-year Nursing and Midwifery course. In reality, she aspired to pursue Medicine to become a Doctor. “I did not regret opting for a much tougher group with Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. I desired to join Medicine but I fell short a long way. I am happy that I got admitted to a Nursing Course. Medicine or Nursing, my sole ambition is to pursue higher studies and reach a position where I can guide the underprivileged children and the elders in the Gypsy community” said a courageous Kowsalya in an interview to a local television channel.
Kowsalya’s educational performance has given inspiration not only to 100 Gyspsy children but also other orphan/semi-orphan and Tribal children totalling to more than 200 who live in Jaly Children’s Homes. She has become a role model for all these vulnerable and underprivileged children. To a great extent Kowsalya transformed her community by motivating many children to undergo formal education. Moreover, the Gypsy community has now realised the importance of their children’s education. The parents voluntarily come forward to send their children to schools and get them admitted in the Children’s Homes run by Samugam Trust.
She has received the following Awards:
· Child Leader Award-2017 (Erik Erikson Award) given by Trust for Youth and Child Leadership. This award was given in recognition of exceptional initiatives and demonstration in ensuring holistic child development by promoting right to participation of the children.
· Abdul Kalam Green Promoters’ Movement Award under Child Leader Award–2017. Kowsalya received this award for participating in green environment.
· Award for Best Woman of Self-Confidence was given by the Honourable Chief Minister and the Governor of Puducherry on 8 March, 2018.
· Child Leader Award-2018 was given by Vinayaka Mission College of Nursing. The College recognised her as a woman of self-confidence and for being the first graduate from the Gypsy community.
· Ilam Kalai Sudar (Young Artist’s Flame) Award was given on 11 August, 2018 for motivating the Gypsy community children to undergo formal education.
· Samugam has won the national award “Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Kalyan Puraskar 2019” by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
“My community has always been excluded from the mainstream. The society never respected my community members. The community’s struggle for survival has always bothered me. I wanted my community people to lead a dignified life. I realised that it is not enough that only I study. I must motivate all the children in my community to study. I wanted my community to understand the benefits of education. After a long persuasion, my parents allowed my three younger sisters also to come and stay in the Children’s Home and study. I am really happy to see that more and more parents are bringing their children for formal education” said Kowsalya in her interview to a local newspaper. Today Kowsalya’s parents and her community people are really proud of her. The local government and other leading child development agencies have recognised her as a Child Leader and a woman of self-confidence. Kowsalya’s personal transformation has led to the transformation of the whole Gypsy community in Puducherry. Youngsters like Kowsalya are the Youth Icons in this modern India. Indeed she has become an agent of change.(Published on 16th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 38)