The next time you feel life is hard on you, read this story of grit of four orphaned tribal kids
It is a story of the resilience of four siblings aged 9 to 16 years from a tribal village in Jharkhand who lost their parents and elder sister to tuberculosis within a span of few months. They had to drop out of school and sell rice beer in order to survive. But, their story has a happy ending. Read on.
Manoj Choudhary 1 July 2023 2:07 PM GMT
Kalaita (West Singhbhum), Jharkhand
In the space of a few months in 2019, four siblings had to stand by helplessly as they watched an older sister, their mother and father die of tuberculosis.
The orphaned siblings — Sushanti Hapatgada, Made, Binu, and Barai — who are now 16, 14, 13 and nine years old respectively, belong to Kalaita village in West Singhbhum district in Jharkhand.
After the passing away of their parents and elder sister, the orphaned children dropped out of school and had to find ways to survive, as no relative or villager came forward to support them. With the little money they had scraped together, they made and sold handia or local rice beer.
Despite their dire circumstances, these siblings never gave up their dream of pursuing their studies. “We made handia at home and sold it in the village market. We bought rice and vegetables for our sustenance with that money,” 16-year-old Sushanti narrated to Gaon Connection.
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“We had lost all hopes of having a normal life after losing three members in the family. But, all along we knew that we must get back to studying. It was my mother’s dream that we all study,” she added.
After struggling for three years, the siblings are now back to school and are pursuing their education, thanks to the efforts of a local social worker Sonu Sirka who used to often visit their village and spotted the orphans and decided to make it better.
The girls are now enrolled at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Noamundi, while the two boys are admitted to Saint Paul’s Middle School Maluka in Jagannathpur.
The siblings are now daring to dream. Sushanti wants to become a police officer and serve her village in Saranda. Made aspires to be a doctor in her village so that no one else ever should have to go through what she and her siblings did, and Binu wants to join the Indian Army.
But it hasn’t been an easy journey for the siblings of Kalaita village. Their father, 50-year-old Sahu Hapatgada, contracted tuberculosis and was unable to work and there was no medical support in their remote village Kalaita with a population of some 200 inhabitants.
“My mother decided to work as a majdoor [daily wage labourer] when she herself fell terribly ill, and died of TB in June, 2019. My father followed her in January 2020,” said a teary-eyed Sushanti. After her mother died, Sushanti had to drop out of the Upgraded High School in Kiriburu town where she studied in class eight.
A relative of the children, Roshni Kandaibur, said villagers often fall ill as they drink contaminated waters from polluted nalas as there was no source of safe drinking water in the tribal village.
“We have to travel 20 kilometres to go to the nearest primary health centre and there are no public transport facilities,” Kandaibur told Gaon Connection. The relatives of the children were all poor themselves and were unable to take care of them, she added.
“In the absence of regular checkups and timely medical help in the village, the mother, daughter and the father died. Illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness about the right treatment led to their demise,” she said.
To survive, the orphaned children made and sold handia or locally prepared rice beer.
Light at the end of the tunnel
A meeting with social activist Sonu Sirka brought some light into the dark times. In December, 2021 Sirka who lived in Kiruru village about 20 kms away from theirs, learnt about their dire straits and decided to link them with charitable organisations that could help them.
Sirka talked to Anil Oraon, the head of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project at Tata Steel in Noamundi and the children got an opportunity to continue their studies free of cost.
To begin with, these children were taken to West Singhbhum district headquarter Chaibasa for a medical checkup in January, 2021, informed Sirka. “They were then admitted to a residential academic institute, called the Camp School, run by Tata Steel in Noamundi, about 50 kilometres away from their village. The children came there in February 2021 where they got free boarding and lodging for nine months,” he added.
Oraon, Tata Steel’s head for CSR in Noamundi area, told Gaon Connection that Tata Steel Foundation runs various welfare programmes for needy children especially in the tribal areas, and the four siblings were also supported under its programme.
“The four children were supported under the Akansha programme, where they are being provided best facilities for quality education,” said Oraon.
A quick recovery
At the Camp School, the children quickly recovered with the proper diet and routine.
“The four children proved their academic competency within a short period. They took some time to overcome the shock of losing their eldest sister and parents in such quick succession, but soon they got friendly with other students and teachers at the school,” Anjali Sulanki, the anganwadi coordinator at Camp School, told Gaon Connection.
“Both the girls qualified for admission in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Noamundi in December, 2021 while the two boys were admitted to Saint Paul’s Middle School Maluka in Jagannathpur,” she added.
“Tata Steel has provided academic and other support to these four children, as per government rules on Foster Parenting,” said Oraon, the CSR head.
Once approval to foster the siblings was received from the West Singhbhum District Child Protection Office, the children’s relatives and villagers, Tata Steel now helps them with financial, educational and other support. “It will continue to help till they become self-dependent,” Oraon said.
The orphaned siblings are now daring to dream to serve their village and their country.