Parvathi, 35, is a construction worker who lives in a hut in the Netaji Nagar slum, Mathikere, in Bangalore. She shares the hut with her four daughters (aged between 4 and 7), her husband and elder brother (both construction labourers). Her father and mother did the same work, as did her husband’s parents. But Parvathi, who is illiterate, is determined to break this chain.

“I don’t want any of my children to become like me, my husband or brother. I want them to have an education," she says assertively.

Rewriting the future: Parvathi (extreme left) is determined to keep her daughters away from the family profession of construction labourers. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Just then, her children troop into the room with their uncle Ramesh. “This girl," he points to the eldest girl, Shantamma, “can read and write, while I can only sign my name." The family of seven can now aspire to move from the world of stones and cement to words and books.

Instrumental in this change is an organization that came to Netaji Nagar last year. The Paraspara Trust has been working in slums in Bangalore since 1996 to abolish child labour. Currently, it is working with 35,000 people in 35 slums in places such as Malleswaram, Mysore Road, Gangondanahalli, Sharif Nagar, Ayyappa Garden and Adugodi.

Last year, Paraspara set up a unit near Parvathi’s hut. This set-up has two purposes. On the one hand, it provides non-formal education to the children of slum dwellers; on the other, it educates the parents of the children on concerns such as basic healthcare, nutrition, hygiene, prevention of disease, housing rights, labour rights, the ills of child marriage and alcoholism.

Every year Parvathi and her family would move to a different part of the city, or to north Karnataka, during certain seasons, as the wages there would be higher. The translocation disrupted their lives, with children forced to drop out of school to look after their younger siblings or to work at construction sites. With Paraspara’s school in Netaji Nagar ensuring education and more, they now settle for what work they can get, so that there is no break in their child’s education.

Seven-year-old Shantamma’s joining school has ensured that her parents also come to school often. Not just to check her progress, but for parent-teacher association meetings. And while they are at school, the teachers and volunteers of Paraspara educate them on civic issues.

Word has spread. Parvathi’s cousin Gouramma, a construction labourer, who lived in Raichur, north Karnataka, moved to Bangalore with her children and husband three years ago. They live in another part of the city but she too now plans to send her children to the school in Netaji Nagar. Bricks and cement may well give way to books and a schoolbag.