Supriya Gupta, a Class 5 student, is helping serve customers at her father's small eatery
The coronavirus pandemic has extracted a huge cost from Uttar Pradesh's children from Saharanpur to Sonbhadra - 1058 kms apart, with schools shut for over four months now.
Those in bigger private schools have started e-learning and the UP government is also pushing e-content for its students. But for lakhs of children from poor and marginalized backgrounds, smartphones or 4G Internet are just dreams.
"If the children do not study how will they move ahead in life? I want them to study further but I do not have the money. I feel so helpless," sobs 42-year-old Mohammad Ilyas, a mason from western UP's Saharanpur who made Rs 10,000 a month before the pandemic. He now runs a samosa stall with his eldest son, 12-year-old Mohammad Chand.
Mr Ilyas's earnings are down to just Rs 3,000 a month. Before COVID-19, he sent his son to a Urdu medium school near his slum. For 4 months now, the boy spends all his time helping his father at the stall.
"I spend my days at the shop and help my father. If there is money, I will return to my school otherwise I don't know. I want to study further," says Chand.
Mohammad Chand, 12, helps his father run a samosa stall now
Uttar Pradesh has India's largest child population according to the 2011 census, but the pandemic is likely to dent already abysmal education figures.
According to government data, 63 per cent of the state's 2 lakh-plus schools are government run, but more students are enrolled in private schools than in government ones. UP has one school teacher for 31 students - in Maharashtra , this figure is one school teacher for 22 students. For Class 5, a benchmark year, UP has a school dropout rate of a massive 21.67 per cent in contrast to a state like Tamil Nadu that has a dropout rate of 1.37 per cent for Class 5.
Schools have been shut for four months now due to the coronavirus pandemic
Once the pandemic eases and schools re-open, the students will have a lot to catch up on. From being immersed in books in Sonbhadra's remote Wyndhamganj town, to helping serve customers at her father's small eatery outside the town's railway station, the last four months have been very tough for both 11-year-old Supriya Gupta, a Class 5 student at a private school and her father Ajay whose earnings have majorly dipped due to the pandemic.
"We had labour at the shop earlier but my father had to let them go. We don't have enough to eat for ourselves how will we pay them? My school is not open, online classes do not work in small towns because there is no proper mobile network and that is a problem," says Supriya.
"I had earlier hoped that online classes would start and that children will not need to go to school in the middle of the pandemic. But how will it happen? There is no proper mobile network, it is not even worth 2G speed, so how does a child learn when you cannot call a teacher home?" adds Ajay Gupta.