Devika Katingal, an orphan studying in ninth standard, from the naxalite area of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra is on a mission to admit school dropout girls in schools

Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Varsha Torgalkar| The News Minute| March 1, 2015| 3.00 pm IST At first sight, Devika Katingal is like any other teenager her age - soft-spoken, neatly dressed, her hair plaited. Devika is studying in ninth class of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya at Dhanora Tehsil in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.  Hidden behind this calm, composed face is a fiery activist devoted to the task of bringing girl school dropouts in the naxalite-centric region back to their notebooks. After scouring areas on visits to relatives’ houses, market places and farms, she would identify girls who would otherwise have been in school in front of a teacher. Researching on each girl’s family background, she along with family members or friends would then visit the girl’s parents to convince them of the importance of education and its future prospects. Her consistent efforts have not gone vain - eight school dropouts from villages near hers have been readmitted back into her own school. Devika’s journey from a six years old orphan from Kulbhatti, a naxalite-affected village in Dhanora on the border of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, to an activist with a string of achievements is commendable. After her alcoholic father died when she was seven; her mother abandoned her the same year. Her grandmother brought her up and she studied in the local Zila Parishad School in Kulbhatti till seventh standard.  Hardships are part and parcel for those living in Kulbhatti. Paddy fields are the only source of livelihood for around 200 families in the naxalite-affected village. With huts prone to collapse during rains, villagers have no option but to take shelter in local schools. It was only after her seventh standard that her uncle admitted her in the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Dhanora - an event that became a turning point in the life of young Devika. During vacations, she would work on farms or sell miscellaneous items at local markets- her earnings each day would come to Rs. 50. This however gave her an opportunity to identify female school dropouts whose parents she later confronted and counselled.  “Many parents literally shoed me away. But I continued my efforts,” Devika explains.  Every admission has a story behind it. She heard Savitri’s story in Savagaon when she had gone to sell items there. “Her father was a naxalite. He was not ready to educate his daughter due to security concern but I assured him that the school is safe place for Savitri to stay. Then he somehow got convinced,” Devika says. What if parents refused? “We explaining about scholarship of Rs 1000 per year given to each girl and other schemes. Some concede,” Devika says.  Her main inspiration came from her principal Pournima Shimpi and teacher Kirti Funde who spread word about the school. Quite recently, Sayadri, Marathi DD, and UNICEF, India felicitated her with Navjyoti Purskar - a ceremony held every year to recognise young girls in rural Maharashtra. Unfortunately , her grandmother passed away on the same day.  Devika however, hopes to continue on her work in memory of her grandmother. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute