Delhi-based KARM Trust is changing the destiny of underprivileged girls

July 07, 2022 11:03 pm | Updated July 08, 2022 10:50 am IST

Inspired by their family legacy, Radhika and Kartik Bharat Ram are championing the rights of marginalised adolescent girls and empowering them to future leaders through KARM Fellowships

The KARM Trust fellows in Delhi during a workshop. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Inside Max House on Delhi’s Rajesh Pilot Lane, a roll call of courage and determination is on. About 20 girls confidently articulate their thoughts on conscription, when asked to debate impromptu.

All under the age of 20 and full of dreams, their views differ but a thread of spunk, friendliness and English-speaking skill ties them together. The other thing they share, are the benefits of city-based KARM Trust that is trying to transform lives of marginalized girls like them.

Barely two summers ago, Shafak Akhtar wasn’t sure where life would take her after class XII, because the 17-year-old’s family could ill-afford her further education. Jyoti Jha was frustrated with her patriarchal family in Bihar. Natasha spent hours convincing her unlettered parents that it was equally important for her — like her brothers — to continue studying.

Daughters of daily wagers, brick kiln workers, drivers, loaders, security guards, dhobis and cooks, the girls did not want to stifle their aspirations, drop off the education landscape or be grabbed by early marriage. They understood better than many in their families and communities that education would ensure a happy, healthy and safe future. But the challenge of finances held them back.


Among these underprivileged adolescents yearning to get past their constraints, some stood out for their stories of resilience and grit. For instance, Mansi lived in a shelter home because her mother is in judicial custody; Kanika worked in the school canteen to earn enough to subsist; Garima fought with her family and worked as house help to finish schooling.

The KARM fellows attend periodic workshop and mentoring sessions. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

The birth of KARM

Meanwhile, since 2018 Radhika and her husband Kartik Bharat Ram were working on a programme aimed at changing the lives of poor girls. Inspired by their family — which founded some of Delhi’s iconic institutions including the Shri Ram College of Commerce, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, The Shri Ram Schools — Radhika and Kartik were aware of their privileges and understood the plight of those who lacked resources and opportunities.

“We set up KARM Trust to help empower young bright girls to lead their best lives,” says Radhika, who set up a core team of experts and mentors to train the girls and help them break taboos, bust myths and challenge stereotypes.

“Adolescent girls are uniquely disadvantaged even though they have the potential to make the greatest change,” feels Radhika, who has curated a three-year curriculum around life and communication skills, education and community service and offers fellowships to empower the selected girls.

“Funding them is easier than putting them on par with the elites and providing them with access to best opportunities,” she says. The girls come from similar backgrounds where their homes do not enable an atmosphere to grow to be free and fierce individuals. “It is our dream to create a cohort of young women leaders who will stand for change within and outside their societies,” adds Radhika.

When KARM (an acronym of the first letters of the founders’ Kartik and Radhika and their children, Ahana and Mahir) fellowship was announced in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic reshaping our anxieties, applications poured in from schools in and around Delhi — 477 in the first year and 600 last year. Less than 100 were shortlisted for interviews and 20 girls made it to the first batch while 24 more joined last year. From families with income below ₹ 5 lakh per annum, the girls had got admission in Delhi University on merit but were contemplating dropping out.

Radhika Bharat Ram, founder of Karm Trust, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

A pillar of strength

KARM handholds them by paying the tuition and exam fee, conveyance and accommodation allowance; buying them books, stationery, laptops and dongles through their college years, and conducting periodic workshops. “The girls are intelligent but lack guidance and confidence; the orientation and mentorship classes help them to refine their personalities and get a perspective,” says Vinita Johorey, the fellowship head.

Delhi, like any big city, can be challenging to live in. Coming from conservative backgrounds, the girls have to constantly stand up for themselves. “Their difficult life situation drives them ferociously towards a change,” she adds.

KARM Trust Fellowship head takes a mentoring session with the 2021 batch of girls in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Aaryaka Nandini Srivastava studying Economics (Hon) in LSR college, says KARM has broadened her mind and awakened her confidence. Gauri Sharma of Shyama Prasad College is able to focus on her career plans. “I was not aware of my potential, now I dream of joining the civil services,” she says. Shivani Rastogi says she feels welcomed here. “I have learnt one should not wait for the environment to become conducive but make oneself conducive to every environment to progress,” she says.

“Each day I am inching towards my goal — that is bloom where you are planted,” says Muskaan Kushwaha,fromShivaji College. For Anasuya, getting the fellowship is wish fulfilment as she now has a purpose to live. Ritu Gautam studying Political Science at Maitreyi College says from self-negligence, she now knows how to improve herself. Anjali Singh of Shivaji College describes herself as a shy person who has learnt self-acceptance to realise her strength. “We are getting moulded into better version of ourselves and getting the opportunity to better our lives,” says Shilpi Dixit, studying Economics at LSR.

Turning point

The deep discussions and bonding activities are visibly helping the girls. “In class, they usher in positivity, surprise us with their candour and floor us with their wisdom,” says Vinita. Manju is now able to question why her mother needs to take permission from her father to step out of the house; Priya is questioning the mindset of people who think girls are not capable. The girls are getting bolder to take on life without fear.

“The fellowship is a turning point in our lives. We are learning to smile in adversity; the forward-thinking keeps us motivated,” says Teena Sahu from Aryabhatta College.

The KARM Trust fellows with their mentor Radhika Bharat Ram in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

“The girls are showing what is possible when you tell them you believe in them,” says Radhika. “They are the change-makers who have potential to improve the world they live in with ideas and energy,” she says.

The KARM programme supports the UN Sustainable Development goal no.4 ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all and by educating and empowering girls, it also supports goal 8 towards promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Behind all the hard work are the stories that are raw and searing. It has taken courage for each of these girls to reach here.  Competence and the willingness to learn has brought them this far. When given the freedom and an enabled environment to decide or influence something they want to change, nothing can stop them from achieving their dreams. “The programme is a strategic investment with sustainable returns,” assures Radhika

KARM Curriculum that augments learning
Grant of Fellowship is conditional: Candidate must gain admission into Delhi University on merit and consistently maintain minimum 60% marks in each semester/year of college, and commit to 10 hours of learning in a month at the KARM workshops.
Schools from where the girls have been selected till now: Shiv Nadar Foundation Vidya Gyan schools in Uttar Pradesh; Faridabad School of Excellence, Delhi Public School Ghaziabad, Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, Salwan Public School, Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya and Kendriya Vidyalaya, New Delhi
The fellows secured admission into various DU colleges, namely, Miranda House, Shivaji College,  Daulat Ram, SRCC, LSR, Kamala Nehru, Ramjas, Deshbandhu College,  Sri Venkateswara,  Kalindi , Aryabhatta, Maitreyi and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College for Girls
KARM curates classes and workshops: In spoken and written English and grammar, personal mentoring with communication, thinking and articulation, goal setting, pragmatic tools for managing time, self-awareness strengths and areas of improvement,  storytelling, google tools, financial literacy, growth mindset, research methodology, better global awareness
KARM provides internship opportunities, volunteering and Social work avenues that allow for creativity, empathy and team building.
This is a Premium article available exclusively to our subscribers. To read 250+ such premium articles every month
You have exhausted your free article limit.
Please support quality journalism.
You have exhausted your free article limit.
Please support quality journalism.
The Hindu operates by its editorial values to provide you quality journalism.
This is your last free article.