Called “Appi ka centre” (elder sister’s centre) by the students – many of whom dropped out of school – the classes are held daily in the homes of teachers funded by Shazia Kidwai.
“It is amazing to watch the confidence on a girl’s face once she realises she can read,” said Ms Kidwai, who spends her holidays in Badagaon village in Uttar Pradesh to keep tabs on the girls’ progress. She also supervises their reading and writing tests.
“My first objective was to make them literate. Now many want to go to college. To see girls picking up a newspaper and reading gives me satisfaction,” she said.
“They may not read the main news and may only want to know what [Bollywood star] Katrina Kaif is doing. Still, it’s a start.”
The girls are taught English, Hindi, Urdu and maths with colourful posters on the alphabet and numbers tacked on the walls.
For some, it is their first classroom experience.
Dozens of girls and women have enrolled for high school after attending the free classes that Ms Kidwai started in 2010.
Thirty-two girls and women between 12 and 26 years of age attend the classes, which Ms Kidwai funds with her personal savings and her family’s support.
It has been a challenge convincing Indian parents that it was better to educate a potential breadwinner than to have them work as a farm labourer or handloom weaver.
Girls tended to marry young, meaning their attendance was not consistent. Nevertheless, Ms Kidwai was undaunted in promoting the benefits of education.
India’s national literacy rate is 74 per cent, but in her home state of Uttar Pradesh the literacy rate for women is 59 per cent.
She started the classes to help raise the standards of young Muslim girls in villages nearby.
Schools in many parts of India are located away from villages, making parents apprehensive about having their daughters cycle or take the bus to school.
Ms Kidwai said her meetings with parents and children during her visits home gave her the idea to hold classes in villages.
Seema Khan, 20, is one of five teachers who instruct small classes of up to six students.
“Some have to be taught to colour between the lines. Some can’t write and have always used their thumbprint instead of signing documents,” said Ms Khan.
“Then they learn the alphabet, learn to sign their name and are so proud of themselves.
“The girls would say they have housework to do or shawls to embroider. We ask them to spare a few hours to learn something new.”
Women from nearby villages now approach the teachers to set up classes in their village.
“If these village level personal classes work and spread, it will improve the girls’ confidence,” said Khursheed Jehan, a retired principal of a nearby high school.
“We try our best to encourage the girls so that they don’t give up studying.
“Whether they are 18 or older, they can still get back into school. They should realise that they need not stop studying because of their age – that education is a lifelong pursuit.”
Courtesy : The National