Life may be all about slums, cramped lanes and one-room hutments for Rohingya refugees in Delhi's Kalindi Kunj Camp, but the younger generation of the community is setting its sights on becoming lawyers and doctors in brighter days to come.
Five days ago, 22-year-old Tasmida shifted from the slum to a rented room in Zakir Nagar to focus on her studies. She is the first Rohingya refugee in India to clear the Class 12 examinations, and has now applied for an LLB course in Jamia Millia. She wants to become a lawyer, so she can fight for the rights of her people.
"When Rohingyas don't even know their own rights due to lack of education, how can things ever work out? There are outsiders working for us but things will improve significantly only when we start raising our own voices," she said.
Nineteen-year-old Foyazul Haque, on the other hand, is preparing for the Class 12 boards at a centre run by a non-governmental organisation. The teenager was 17 when he fled Myanmar to escape persecution, but ended up getting separated from his family along the way. "As I'm interested in biology, I would like to opt for medical science after clearing the Class 12 examinations. I want to become a doctor so I can provide for my community's medical needs," he said.
The quest for education has begun earlier for Rohingya children at another school in Khajuri Khas. Eight-year-old Mustakima and six-year-old Shehzad were taken to school by their father, Muhammad Ali, who came to India two years ago. "Mine was a disturbed childhood but I want a different life for my children," said the 44-year-old, who now works as a waiter. "Back in Myanmar, we used to face discrimination even as students of Class 3. As we would get beaten by other children, our parents stopped sending us to school. But I think education is of prime importance for my children."
Most such literacy programmes are run by individuals from the Rohingya community and funded through public donations. "I was very young when I came from Myanmar to India, and a few noble people helped me get an education. This is why I decided to do the same for others," said 25-year-old Ali Johar, founder of the Rohingya Literacy Programme.
Ali Johar said his project to support Rohingya children who are separated from their parents took root when a man graciously donated his two-room apartment in Okhla for the purpose. "This helped us provide accommodation to the children. While a few college students tutor them for free, there are organisations that help us with other facilities such as stationery, food and transportation," he added.
Shabbir Faisal Ahmed, founder of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, said some parents want their children to learn Burmese as well. "They believe it will keep them rooted in their identity. And if the situation in Myanmar gets better one day, they will be able to return."