A Musahar girl in Ratanpur holds her baby brother.
Choti Kumari Singh of Ratanpur, Bihar has something special to celebrate today on Gandhiji’s birthday. She has been given a great honour at just 20-years-old. She is the youngest ever to be awarded as a Laureate with the Women’s World Summit Foundation.
At just 17, Choti decided to start doing whatever she could to help the Musahar people in Ratanpur, a scheduled caste community that faces so much prejudice some people call them subhuman. The most interesting thing about Choti’s work is she could see that there is a highly difficult barrier of convincing the Musahars themselves they too have rights as citizens and human beings.
Among them, only six percent of men and two percent of women are literate. Hygiene practices are low and some children are bathed only about once every two weeks. In addition, children are usually not vaccinated and many face severe malnutrition. Education is low, as almost no children would attend school, and many are married by 10 or 12.
Along with Nand Kishore, our Village Coordinator in Ratanpur, Choti started after-school tuition classes in 2014. It was challenging to convince the parents to send their children, so Choti went house-to-house to gather the kids.
Choti Kumari Singh – winner of the Women’s World Summit Foundation 2017 Laureate.
Due to the children’s poor body cleanliness, they also started taking them to the local river to bathe them. Little by little, the children are learning how to acquire these habits. Now even the mothers themselves will call the children for baths.
Next, Choti decided to start self help groups for the women where each one saves 20 rupees a month and gives to the common bank account. When one of the women needs a loan, she can take it from the group. Also, all pregnant women are now taken to the Primary Health Centre, and mothers are educated about vaccination schedules for their kids.
The tuition classes have proven a huge success. 108 children are now enrolled and the parents themselves have undergone a complete change of mindset regarding their children’s education. Choti says that she believes in the coming years, many of these Musahar children will go to college, which would be a first for this community.
In terms of Choti herself, perhaps the biggest thing to witness is how she has stood up for Dalit people and in Gandhiji’s legacy, has shown that she believes all are equal human beings.
As Gandhiji said, “My fight against untouchability is a fight against the impure in humanity.”