Governor M.K. Narayanan with Shalinis at GD Birla Sabhagar on Sunday. (Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya)
More than 200 bright young girls from underprivileged families took the first step towards a better future on Sunday when they took the Shalini oath at GD Birla Sabhagar in the presence of governor M.K. Narayanan.
The Udayan Shalini Fellowship, started in 2002 by Udayan Care, aims to “ensure no girl with the drive to learn is denied her dream” for want of support. The girls are selected for the fellowship after sitting for a NAT (need, aptitude and talent) test. At the start of becoming a Shalini, each of them has to take a pledge — to uphold the values of the fellowship and to give back to those like them.
So, on Sunday, the auditorium reverberated with the line “I stand here to take pledge to translate my dreams of being a dignified woman into reality, with the aim of bringing sunshine into the lives of all those who touch mine”, as each of the 223 girls uttered the solemn words.
The opportunity to become a Shalini was no less than a dream-come-true for many of the girls. “My father drives an autorickshaw,” 18-year-old Moumita Bhowmick told Metro after taking the oath. “He said he’d educate me as long as he could afford to. I sat for the NAT test and am now pursuing physics honours.”
A Shalini fellowship is not just about studies, said Moumita. “At Udayan, they not only help us in our education but also in our overall development. Earlier, I used to be scared to just come out of my house. Now I am a confident woman, who can confidently speak for herself,” she added.
The governor, appreciating the work being done by the project, requested the organisers to hold such programmes for boys as well, and launch the Shalini programme in south India. “This is one of the most enlightening programmes that I have come across. It is more focused on productivity,” he said.
Kusum Bhandari, the convener of the Bengal chapter, spoke on the concept of the girls’ overall development. “These girls come from a background where there is not much education. They have a lot of complexes in their mind. We break these complexes by teaching them dance, music, theatre and other activities.” On the governor’s suggestion, she said: “We will think of starting such a programme for boys and call them Shalins.”
Each girl in the programme is also assigned a mentor, from whom they can seek guidance. “The mentors help bridge the gap between the environment in the homes of the Shalinis and their dreams. The mentors meet the students at least once a fortnight,” said Parimal Chandra Das, the joint convener of Udayan Care’s Bengal chapter.
“The mentors not only help us in our education but also guide us if we have any personal problems,” said Srijeeta Bhattacharya, who is pursuing her masters in English and plans to do an MPhil.
The event that started at 11am was attended by dignitaries like Shubhalakshmi Panse, the CMD of Allahabad Bank, Madhu Neotia and Sanjay Budhia. “The women are being given the power to deal with life’s challenges. This helps them become confident and deal with life as it comes,” said Neotia.
“The programme helps the women move from islands of isolation to that of excellence and chart a course of life for the benefit of the community and the country,” said Budhia.