A Gurukul Run by Transgender Provides Free Education and Meals to Underprivileged Kids
Sumi Das, a transgender, has founded a gurukul in Cooch Behar in West Bengal where the teachers and the non teaching staff are also from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Danish Iqbal 9 Oct 2023 10:59 AM GMT
She was barely 14 years old when Sumi Das left home. She does not want to speak about her life before that, but in the 20 years since then, she has done a lot.
“My life became really meaningful when I came to Cooch Behar, completed my Bachelors, and in 2012, founded the Moitri Sanjog Society that works for the welfare of the transgender community,” Sumi, a transwoman, told Gaon Connection.
Her organisation runs a special gurukul in Cooch Behar in north Bengal to impart education to underprivileged children, and what makes the entire initiative stand out is the fact that majority of the teachers and caretakers at the gurukul are from the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and others) community.
It was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, that Moitri Sanjog Society set up a gurukul at Ghughumari village in Cooch Behar, about 700 kilometres northeast of the state capital Kolkata.
“We began the gurukul in a room at our shelter for trans people, to educate children whose parents are daily wage labourers and cannot afford to pay fees or pay for tuition,” the 34-year-old narrated. “From the teachers to the cook who prepares the food for kids and the other non-teaching staff, most of them are transgender,” she added.
Sumi has made it her life’s mission to disabuse society of its prejudices and discrimination, and help other transgender people to live, love and work like anyone else. She also firmly believes the society will be more accepting of the transgenders if the latter did something for the general welfare of society. “All people should be treated as equals,” she said.
Moitri Sanjog Society runs entirely on donations given by business people and individuals. Nearly a 100 people in this society are directly or indirectly associated with the trans community.
There are 29 children who study at the gurukul. They are between the ages of five and 11 years. The children come to the gurukul after their regular government school hours. The gurukul welcomes them at 4 PM and they stay there till 7.30 PM.
“The children study for about an hour after which they learn dance, music, art and do yoga. Before they return home, they are served a nutritious meal,” said Sumi. The meal, which includes vegetables and chicken, is served free of cost to children who study at the gurukul. According to her, the fact that they are given a good meal keeps the children focused on their learning.
At the gurukul, the children have regular tests to see how they are progressing and their guardians are kept abreast of how they are doing in the gurukul. Regular parent-teacher meetings are also held.
The gurukul has two teachers, Isobar Chandar and Tamanna Dey, and a cook Subha Das, all three of them transgender, who take care of the children.
“I like teaching children, and I especially enjoy teaching them mathematics,” Chandra, one of the teachers, told Gaon Connection. The teacher gets free boarding and lodging at the gurukul besides a salary of Rs 8,000 a month.
“Many of the children who come here are either without parents or are children of sex workers. Giving them an opportunity to study is most satisfying,” said Chandar, who has been associated with the Moitri Sanjog Trust since its inception, but became a teacher at the gurukul in 2021.
“In the beginning the children barely knew anything. Now they are well versed in mathematics, science, English and Bengali, Chandar added.
Parents are grateful to Sumi and the gurukul. “There are people who hesitate to send children to be taught by transgenders. But they are warm and generous people who love our children as much as we do, if not more,” Pampa De, whose four children study at the gurukul, told Gaon Connection.
Her husband is a daily wage labourer who works in Hyderabad and she considers Sumi Das no less than a blessing. “Sumi educates my children without charging a penny and also gives them a meal. It is only because of her that a poor woman’s children are being able to get educated,” the mother said.