The good, and the bad thing, about time is that it changes, which makes our lives a balancing act. 28-year-old Sarita Mali from Mumbai seems to be doing that quite efficiently.

The woman who sold flowers on the streets as a student of class VI is now going to pursue a Ph.D. degree from the University of California.

Hailing from the Ghatkopar region of Mumbai, Sarita tells her story to the Times of India.

My childhood was filled with sufferings, be it economic, psychological or because of my gender. In our country, a dark-skinned girl from a particular section of society faces many additional challenges.

In an unequal world that makes disadvantages out of things that define people’s identity – like the colour of their skin and their gender – Sarita had to make her way through.

To add to this, her family had to face hardships because they belong to a lower caste. However, her father was determined that he’d educate his children so that they have a future. 

It was my father who motivated me even though he is not educated. In his village he had seen upper caste people achieve things after receiving education. Somehow that thought stuck with him. So, he decided that even though he himself hadn’t been able to attend school, he would make his children study to ensure they bypassed the privations he had faced in life.
The Mook Nayak

She tells that he recently learned how to write his name, and while he may not know what a Ph.D. degree means, he is aware that education can change people’s lives.

Sarita started taking tuition to fund her own education, pretty early on in life. In doing so, she inspired her siblings who also decided to focus on their studies.

Later in 2014, she joined JNU for an MA course in Hindi literature, something that was not comprehensible to the people she knew. She stuck to her plan, though, and her perseverance is now bearing fruits. 

The Indian Express

With her story out in the public domain, she is posed to get much-deserved appreciation. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that most of her struggles are manufactured by the system and society.

Something like caste is still a big roadblock in the way to getting educated – and Sarita is a living example of this. To all the naysayers of reservation, we do need it after all, don’t we?

Another thing to notice is the importance of public-funded universities that give subsidised education. Had it not been for JNU, she may not have been able to get her chosen degree in the first place.

Sarita herself shudders when she sees children on the street and has now become a champion of educational rights. 

Each time I see children on the streets, I feel overwhelmed. There must be so many out there who can study and move upward. I want to raise my voice for free education for street children. There must be policies that allow such students to study without the pressure of finances. The contribution of marginalised communities in the country building must also be recognised.

All children should be provided with education, even those selling flowers on the street – but then children shouldn’t have to sell flowers on the street, to begin with. Leaves all of us with a lot to think about.