Reeta Kaushik of Kushinagar symbolizes a revolution in learning. Born into the Musahar community – the most marginalized and disadvantaged section, Reeta has distinguished herself as an educator in many villages in Kushinagar and Gorakhpur. She is credited with educating over 25,000 girls and young people through her organization.
“I am my own inspiration,” she says, recalling how she fought social norms to bring about change not only in her own life, but also in the lives of many others in her community and outside. The daughter of a rickshaw puller, Reeta has struggled with caste, child marriage and illiteracy at every step. “In my family, education has never been a priority, let alone for girls.”
His father also sold vegetables to earn more. While her older sister took care of household chores, Reeta took her two younger brothers to school, about 3 km away. “I faced a double problem – one was gender bias and the other was my caste. I always wanted to study,” she says. “I carried my brothers to school and at home. I had no choice and that’s what I didn’t like.
One day, when she was barely 10, she asked her brother’s teacher if she could share a space on the back row bench and listen to what was being taught. “The teacher accepted and my journey into the world of education began,” says Reeta.
She then obtained a scholarship to study in a private school. Around the same time, she was forced into marriage when she was just 12 years old. “In the villages, the ‘bidai’ (formal sending of a bride) does not take place immediately. By the time I was due to leave for my in-laws’ house in 1991, I had finished at the end of my studies, ranked first in the first year of a bachelor’s degree,” recalls Reeta. She returned home one day after her “bidai” and never returned.
Enrollment in the second year of license was expensive. Reeta dropped out, learned shorthand and typing and got a job at a dispensary for a salary of Rs 1,500 in 1996. She then enrolled in the Arts stream. “I knew I couldn’t continue my studies in science while working full time,” she says. A year later, she got a job in an organization engaged in social work.
She then decided to pursue a postgraduate course using her savings. Today, she is the first educated woman in her family. In 2000, Reeta remarried. With immense support from her husband’s family, she continued her work as an office assistant. However, during her maternity leave, she was demoted and her salary was reduced from Rs 7,000 to Rs 5,000.
Her belief in girls’ education led Reeta to record her own Samudayik Kalyan Evam Vikas Sansthan (SKVS) in 2003. Initially, she focused on primary education. Gradually, she expanded her work to include health, nutrition, economic empowerment, sanitation and land rights.
The SKVS has now reached panchayats of 112 grams in 126 communities in Kushinagar and Gorakhpur, providing vocational training and skills development among girls. Mainstream education, bridging courses for dropouts and the skills development program run by SKVS have impacted the lives of over 25,000 children and young people among Musahar, Dalit and Muslim communities.
Reeta also helped community members in Musahar gain land rights, ending decades of oppression for many who worked as landless laborers. “In 2007, I got a scholarship from the Dalit Foundation. With numerous grants amounting to Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh, I had consolidated my organization by 2008,” she says.
Reeta funded the education of girls from the Musahar community, one of whom, Nitu Bharti, now works as a central director in the UP government’s One Stop Center programme. Bharti has successfully completed her Masters in Social Work. “I worked with her for a decade. She supported me in every way possible. She partly funded my graduate degree with her own savings,” says Nitu.
The SKVS has also assisted the government in identifying and registering beneficiaries of social assistance schemes. Since 2013, the organization has enrolled 15,118 students in mainstream education, 2,879 students from minority communities have received support in bridging courses and 624 students have received vocational training.
Broaden the horizon of its social works
Reeta Kaushik’s belief in girls’ education led her to record Samudayik Kalyan Evam Vikas Sansthan in 2003. Initially, she focused on primary education, but expanded her work to include health, nutrition, economic empowerment, sanitation and land rights. The SKVS has also assisted the government in identifying and registering beneficiaries of social assistance schemes.
Honored for exemplary service
Reeta also helped community members in Musahar gain land rights, ending decades of oppression for many landless workers. Facilitated by SKVS, 18 women self-help groups are working with a seed investment of Rs 1 lakh to engage in livestock rearing. For her efforts, Reeta Kaushik received the Example Award from the Confederation of Indian Industry in 2021.