Rows of bookshelves adorn a wall in Spruha’s home. Some of the shelves double up as a display for the numerous awards she’s won over the years. They don’t scream out for attention but it would be hard to miss them. Prizes for essay-writing, poetry, and teaching. If Spruha owned a cap, it would be fitted with not one, but many feathers. Although it might seem at the first glance that Spruha simply chased her dreams to get where she is today, life has been anything but easy.
Childhood was sheltered for Spruha. As the eldest daughter, she had responsibilities but her parents, who were both earning members of the family, made sure she got what she wanted. She says that it was a fairly sheltered upbringing. The upheaval came when Spruha fell in love and got married at the age of 18. Her parents were unaware of this event and withdrew their support when they found out. Today, Spruha admits that it was an impulsive decision and that she had realisations post-marriage that were significantly shocking and damaging. Her partner was much older than he had claimed to be, he had multiple addictions, was ill-tempered and physically abusive towards her.
About two years into the marriage, Spruha had reconciled with her parents but their acceptance meant that she continued to stay in a toxic relationship and put up a facade before them. Spruha recalls, “I had my daughter Mansi when I was 19. She suffered the brunt of her father’s anger as well. I thought I was weak, I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, how to say no. I had no clue about the legal system or its functioning. Until 2010, I did not know anything about the ‘how’ aspect of divorce.”
Spruha was pursuing her D.Ed when she got married and despite the volatility of her marriage, she had managed to complete the course. She took up a job as a teacher when her daughter was 9 months old. For the next few years, life went on, with more troughs than crests. Spruha fought through countless dark episodes, holding on to her child, drawing strength from her, and turning to the power of ink – sometimes as a distraction, and other times as an outlet for self-expression.
In 2010, she participated in a state-level essay writing competition and won the 1st prize. At the felicitation ceremony, she met Yogita Salve, an alumnus of PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship, who advised her to join the next cycle. On enquiring about the fellowship, Spruha found that she would have to form a 15-member group. She managed to get 10 people together but the group was not selected. Spruha felt dejected, wondering why it hadn’t worked out. But a couple of months later, she was informed of the group’s selection.
When the fellowship began, the group faced severe dropout issues, not once but twice in the cycle. Given Spruha’s immense dedication towards the process, she would panic every time something went wrong and each time, her facilitators, Sunil Gangavane and Poonam Yewale would placate her fears, help her find a solution and encourage her to keep going. The exposure to people from diverse backgrounds helped Spruha make new friends and find new confidantes. A workshop on understanding the ‘self’ facilitated by Nitin Paranjape pushed her to seek power from within.
During the fellowship, Spruha experienced an awakening, stemming from years of being subjugated and began the courageous battle to break free from her marriage. It made her realise that her life amounted to so much more than she was made to believe, and that living in constant trauma wasn’t a way to live at all. Sunil and Poonam extended their unhindered emotional support to her and also suggested ways in which she could seek legal help. Spruha says, “I was depressed for sometime. Poonam sent me to counsellors whom I could talk to freely. I started to hear my own voice with clarity. It had been muffled so far. Eventually, I felt confident enough to go to the police station, a place that was dominated and manipulated by the men in uniforms. They wouldn’t register my complaint. I learnt about Right To Information (RTI) Act through a session in the Youth Fellowship and figured out how to file applications to enquire about the status of my complaints and to retrieve other information crucial for my case.”
Knowledge empowers. On one hand, Spruha was learning the importance of evidence-based learning in the fellowship and on the other she was using this knowledge to gather evidence to fight in court. She emerged successful. Independence had not come easy, but it had finally come.
Today, Spruha is an RTI activist who facilitates workshops on understanding the Act as part of the Youth Fellowship project. She helps other women file applications and sticks with them through the process. She participates in poetry and essay writing competitions with gusto and celebrates her victories. She continues teaching at the same school where she started off as a teacher and invests a large portion of her time in this endeavour.
Spruha says that she has come a long way as a teacher. Today, she is part of a breed of educators that cares deeply about what they do. She declares, “I found my strength in PUKAR. I used to be rigid in my methods of teaching and imitate other senior teachers. My teaching was never children-centric but that has changed. I believe I have become confident and innovative in my approach. The children call me by name and say that they love me. I can see how their involvement in class has increased. I believe in using alternative teaching methods and am often invited to conferences to make presentations. I do exercises in class where I teach the children real world skills like conducting interviews and even the importance of research. In this way, I am able to transfer my learning from PUKAR in a classroom environment”.
Spruha also has a son from her marriage and he’s still in school while her daughter is pursuing law. Her day revolves around her son, the kids at school, the court and she even manages to take tuitions in the evenings. The nights however are devoted to writing stories and poems, a passion that illuminates her life. Evidently, Spruha has a packed schedule and she says that there is no other way she would have it. Since 2012, when she came onboard the fellowship, Spruha has been a firm proponent of experiential learning, and engaged in a constant cycle of acquiring knowledge and then applying it – whether it is filing 278 RTI applications to seek truths related to her own life, or using her experiences of interacting with a fellow transgender participant in the fellowship to talk to her class about Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist. So when she says that her story today would read very differently than it did 6 years back, the reason is obvious: it is because she wrote it herself.