Today I want to share with you all the story of Asmeena and how wonderfully courageous this girl is! Courage comes in many forms. A simple act of sending their daughters to school is a very big act of courage for parents here in Mewat, the district with the most abysmal female literacy rate in India. The fact that the girls are staying on in the school is nothing short of monumental courage on their part.
It might be very difficult for us to understand how this is courageous because most us have always taken education as an undeniable reality of our lives. But for Asmeena and many girls like her, the undeniable reality of life is the burden of household chores and sibling care. I do not intend to dramatize it – I simply present a scenario where generations of women have lived without stepping into schools at all. It is socially and psychologically accepted that education for girls is irrelevant and unimportant.
Asmeena, like many 12 year olds in a village in Mewat district of Haryana state, spent most of her days helping her mother with household work. There is a primary school in her village but she preferred staying home because most teachers in the school are men and her community doesn’t look very well on girls on being educated by male members of the community. She wasn’t very interested either because very few girls from her village went to school and she would rather play with the ones not going.
She got another chance to study when JMV brought Udaan to Mewat. She was one of the first few ones to be inducted in the school and while many girls have been going home and coming back, she has stayed in school without leaving it except during holidays.
Asmeena was one of the naughtiest girls when she first came to Udaan and one of the most resistant to studies. But as I talk to her now, it is difficult to imagine that this girl who will very shortly join a formal upper primary was ever resistant to her studies.
When I ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, pat comes the reply, ‘I want to be an English teacher when I grow up!’
She has, in many ways, challenged the boundaries that society has placed on her. Contrary to what is expected of girls in her community, she plays sports, rides a bicycle in the school campus and encourages other girls to study. Again these are things we have all grown up doing all the time but for her it is courage and a lot of it at that because she can be taken out of school at a moment’s notice if the community pressurizes her parents.
Asmeena’s story outlines the major challenges to girl education in Mewat. Opposition of the community on socio-cultural lines, the periodic disturbances in the curriculum cycle owing to girls going back home to help with harvesting season and zero availability of local trained teachers – these are some major hurdles.
It takes time and hard work to change the way people think and the only way it can be done is by showing the actual proof of education in the lives of their children. These baby steps that Asmeena is taking to study, to play and to express in more than one ways is actually a giant step in the transformation of her community.