A vicious cycle for migrants

Jyoti's decision demonstrates that the thirst for recognition and opportunities is not as pervasive among the young as many of us might like to believe.

 |  4-minute read |   31-05-2020
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Jyoti has reportedly turned down the offer made to her by the national level organisation concerned with the promotion of cycling as a sport. Jyoti had carried her ailing father on a bicycle carrier all the way from Delhi to her village in Darbhanga in Bihar. Like lakhs of migrant workers, she and her father had no means to leave Delhi during the lockdown. It is not easy to imagine a 14 year old pedalling for days in the heat of May, with occasional help from a truck or tractor over a short distance. The news that she reached her destination evokes many other images, of children and adults who collapsed on the way or met with an accident.

Dreams vs reality

The Cycling Federation of India (CFI) was so impressed with Jyoti that it decided to make her an offer. If she passes through a trial next month, the CFI said, it will train her to become a professional cyclist. Jyoti does not want to go for this trial next month. She says she is tired after her long and painful ordeal. Her priority is to return to school which had dropped her when she left for Delhi to help her father. An erickshaw driver, he had injured himself. Jyoti's decision demonstrates that the thirst for recognition and opportunities is not as pervasive among the young as many of us might like to believe. That poverty does not necessarily cloud good sense is also heartening.


Stories of this kind keep surfacing every now and then. While covering the Lok Sabha election campaign last summer, a TV anchor came across a village girl who was studying in Grade VI. She was articulate, aware and extremely poor. During her conversation, the anchor asked her the stock question that few visitors can resist asking: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Typically, rural children respond to it by saying things like "I want to become a doctor." Soon after this conversation with the girl was telecast, a fund was announced to help her chase the dream of medical education. It didn't occur to the fund raisers or donors that the girl may change her mind when she grows up.

In the ethos we have created for our children, they are expected to decide early what they want to do when they grow up. Words like 'aspiration' and 'dream' are the hackneyed currency of reporting on the poor. At school, children learn early what to say when adults ask them about future goals. They are guided by the images they have seen or the snippets they have heard. By the time they come to the secondary classes, many of them find themselves stuck in fixed models. An entire cohort at a school can give you the impression that everybody wants to pursue engineering at IIT.

There are adults who take up such ideas as a mission of personal charity or enterprise. They do all they can to help someone get through the IIT entrance test or NEET. Youngsters facing the hard life of a coaching institute without much personal interest are a common sight. In addition to the burden of expectations these adolescents carry, they also harbour a sense of guilt for causing their parents so much financial hardship. The uncertainty of failing to prove worthy of the expectations imposed on them adds to the fear that the money spent on them may go to waste. The stress sustained over several years of coaching is incredible.

Act of necessity

Those who make it in the end are not necessarily happy. Having given stock replies to adult questions throughout their childhood, these young people can't say anything other than what they feel parents or benefactors expect to hear.

The fact that Jyoti declined to fall in this aspirational trap is heartening. Just because she survived the ordeal of carrying her father didn't mean that now she would opt for cycling as her career. Her response shows that the confidence she showed under the circumstances is real.

Thinking of the many

But her story reveals as much about our society and the government. The Darbhanga district administration offered 'all possible help' to let Jyoti resume her studies. A political party announced a financial offer to support her.

Sponsoring is what society knows best when it encounters someone like Jyoti. Making schools more capable of retaining every child does not receive the priority it ought to. That will take too many layers of bureaucracy and political leadership to act, and the action will have to last several years to make a difference. Announcing special help for one child is a lot easier.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Jyoti Kumari's life is sport for middle class. Kuch yaad nahi rehta hai


Krishna Kumar Krishna Kumar

Author is former director of NCERT.

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