In the midst of a school nestled among rural landscapes, where electricity remains a distant dream, there shines a remarkable girl child whose spirit is illuminated by a resolute sense of optimism. Despite the challenges that surround her, she embraces each day with infectious enthusiasm, undeterred by the lack of modern amenities. But her determination serves as a beacon, which has helped illuminate the path for her community and show that dreams can thrive even amidst the darkes adversities.
Iqra, the 16-year-old girl, lives in the small village of Rohta in Meerut with her family of seven. Her father, a farmer, is the sole breadwinner, managing to send his children to school.
At the age of 12, when Iqra was enrolled in a nearby school, she studied in classrooms that had no electricity or light. She thought it was normal and accepted it as her destiny due to their poor background.
In the Meerut district, the female literacy rate is 63.98%, which is lower than the male literacy rate of nearly 80%. According to the National Statistical Survey (NSO) data for 2023, the overall literacy rate of Uttar Pradesh is 67.68%, making it one of the states with the lowest literacy rates in India.
The state is also among the list which has the highest rate of female dropouts from schools due to a number of reasons, including early marriages, child labor, lack of infrastructure in schools, societal norms that prioritize household responsibilities over education for girls, poverty, etc.
Iqra participated in the National Bal Panchayat (Children’s Council elections) and was appointed the secretary of her village's Bal Panchayat. Unfazed by the darkness, she saw a bright future ahead, fueled by the belief that education is the key to unlocking a world of possibilities. As her exposure broadened, she understood that electricity was not a luxury but a basic right for children studying in schools. Active participation in debates and discussions within the children's parliament gave her a deeper understanding of how the negligence of the local community and authorities was adversely affecting the children's future.
In the year 2018, when she moved to the upper primary class, she discovered that her fellow classmates had to endure hot, fan-less days and study in the dark, , leading to difficulty in learning and and concentrating. This situation worsened during rainy or winter seasons, causing a significant drop in enrollment rates, particularly among girls.
Fueled by determination, Iqra took the initiative to approach her school teachers and authorities, driven to bring about a positive change. However, her efforts were met with skepticism and discouragement, as the teachers recounted their past unsuccessful attempts to secure an electricity connection. Undeterred, Iqra embraced the challenge thrust upon her as the leader of the Children's Council and resolved to make a difference, vowing to persevere where others had faltered. (Bal Panchayat).
Taking the challenge to heart, Iqra and her team of Children's Council members visited the local Junior Engineer officer, hoping for assistance. However, the officer dismissed them, underestimating the power of children to effect change. Unfazed, Iqra refused to give up. Just days before Diwali, the festival of lights, she decided that her classroom should also be illuminated. She could not accept that many children were dropping out due to the absence of electricity connections. Iqra discussed with her family members and strategized how she could help.
Through diligent research, she discovered that she could directly approach the electricity block department to request a light connection for her school. Despite facing initial refusal from the appointed officer, her anger fueled a resolute determination, leading her to organize a Dharna, a protest sit-in. At just 12 years old, an age where most children are occupied with typical school activities, she stood unwavering, vowing not to relent until her classroom was illuminated with electricity.
Initially underestimated, Iqra's determination held strong as she remained at the protest site throughout the evening, demanding electricity. Not even the threat of police involvement deterred her. Impressed by her unwavering spirit, the officer finally relented and instructed the Junior Engineer to install electric poles and provide a wired connection to Iqra's school. On Diwali morning, after 16 long years, the first electric bulb was finally lit up in her classroom.
Iqra's triumph was met with exuberant celebrations by the school, children, and
teachers alike. They eagerly anticipated her arrival at the school, where she would light the first bulb with her very own hands, symbolizing her determination and remarkable success. News of her remarkable accomplishment quickly spread like wildfire, and soon, her name became known throughout the entire village and community. With electricity now available in her school, the enrollment rate skyrocketed, especially among girls who were inspired by Iqra's undying efforts. Her dedication not only uplifted the community but also made the entire village proud of her.
As Iqra continued her journey as the Bal Panchayat secretary, she knew that no challenge was too big when one's heart is set on making a difference. With compassion as her driving force, she proved that age and stature were no barriers to creating a brighter future for all. Thus, the legacy of a brave 12-year-old girl who brought light after 16 years continued to shine brightly, guiding generations to come.