Oct 102013

Shushma’s father brings
her to the university

LUCKNOW, India – In a country where many girls are still discouraged from going to school, Sushma Verma, has remarkable parents.

The 13-year-old girl is from a poor family in north India.  Her older brother graduated from high school at 9, and in 2007 became one of India’s youngest computer science graduates at 14.  Sushma proved to be equally smart.  She finished school at age seven (two years quicker than her brother) and earned an undergraduate degree at age 13! Sushma wished to enroll in a Master’s Degree in Microbiology and that is when her father did something wonderful.  He sold his land to pay for some of his daughter’s tuition in the hope of catapulting her into India’s growing middle class.

Sushma lives a very modest life with her three younger siblings and her parents — eating, sleeping and studying alongside them in a cramped single-room apartment in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.Their only income is her father’s daily wage of up to 200 rupees (less than $3.50) for labouring on construction sites. Their most precious possessions include a study table and a second-hand computer.  There is no television and this is conducive to studying for all the children

Sushma begins her studies next week at Lucknow’s B. R. Ambedkar Central University, though her father is already ferrying her to and from campus each day on his bicycle so she can meet with teachers before classes begin.  She wishes to become a doctor, but she cannot take the test to qualify for medical school until she is 18.  In the meantime, she opted for the M.Sc and then will go on to get her doctorate.

In another family, Sushma might not have been able to follow her older brother into higher education. Millions of Indian children are still not enrolled in grade school, and many of them are girls whose parents choose to hold them back in favour of advancing their sons. Some from conservative village cultures are expected only to get married, for which their families will go into debt to pay exorbitant dowry payments, even though they are illegal.

For Sushma, her father sold his only pieces of land — 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) in a village in Uttar Pradesh — for the cut-rate price of 25,000 rupees (about $400) to cover some of her school fees.  There was opposition from other family members and friends, but this did not deter Sushma’s father.

The rest of Sushma’s school fees will come from a charity that traditionally works in improving rural sewage systems, which gave her a grant of 800,000 rupees (about $12,600).

“The girl is an inspiration for students from elite backgrounds” who are born with everything, said Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International, who decided to help after seeing a local television program on Sushma. She is also receiving financial aid from well-wishing civilians and other charities.

 Leave a Reply