Chennai: The Kasimedu harbour in Tamil Nadu’s capital city of Chennai, is bustling with business every morning. Women here are tough sellers, haggling for every penny that can help them feed their family.
Among them is 18-year-old Shalini, a bold girl with a beautiful smile and a dream that she has stubbornly held on to.
Cleaning prawns does not disturb her any more like it did eight years back, when she was taken off school to help her family at the fish market.
Now she willingly helps, out of the sheer joy that she has become one of the few women in her locality to have completed higher secondary.
“I want to do BSc, study nursing and become a good nurse. I have got a lot of respect and confidence after I have finished my class 12th. Education is very important”, says, Shalini Mumuswamy.
But at her home, there is silence. Shalini and her sister have fought again, after she recently refused a marriage proposal, stating that she wants to study further.
Shalini’s three elder sisters and mother are upset. They want her to marry, like they themselves did and other women of their community still do, some even before they reach 18. “We were not allowed to study after class 10 by she has even finsihed her class 12 and wants to go to college now. We won’t allow that”, says Malathi M, Shalini’s elder sister.
Unable to take the pressure, Shalini breaks down at times with her eyes full of tears. But would soon return to her normal self, fuelled by her hunger to pursue a degree.
Soon after her class 12th results in May, Shalini went without food in an attempt to force her family to let her study further.
Her former teacher at Karunalaya, R Prameela says, “Of the 100 students I teach, only 40 are girls and at least 20% of them drop out every year”.
“Most of the girls in this locality are a victim of broken families, their fathers give in to alcoholism.”, Prameela adds.
Shalini is no exception. But despite it all, for Shalini, her father is also her only source of support, however little.
“We don’t have any money for now. Next year if she gets admission in a good college, we’ll send her”, says her father, Munnuswamy V.
If she spends her mornings helping her father sell fish, then the evenings see her in an entirely new role, as a teacher in a school she once studied in. She saves a portion of her monthly salary of 3,500 rupees, for her higher education.
For her friends, like 15-year old Selvy who dropped out of school, Shalini is a huge inspiration.
“Parents now say they want their daughters to re-enrol in schools like Shalini did. Everywhere we go, we share her example. Shalini’s stand has brought a fresh perspective in her colony”, says R Prameela, Teacher, Karunalaya
Shalini is the first teacher from her colony. And her determination to study is now shaping young minds of the next generation. She is a role model that no one here has seen before.
Little surprising that her student, 7 year old student R Sanjana says, ” I want to study like Shalini madam and become an engineer.”