Listening to the unheard voices of India
It is a common practice to interview celebrities and share their success stories. But the real grassroots heroines and heroes rarely get heard. So, for a change, let us listen to what our 13-year-old Raveena has to say on girls’ education. It is high time our policymakers paid heed to the experiential knowledge of people like Raveena to ensure that all children receive an education, and help achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals, one of which (SDG 4) envisages to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
Raveena comes from a poor Muslim family of Bahpur village of Moradabad district. She is one among the 21 girl leaders elected from Moradabad as part of a campaign on girls’ education initiated by Oxfam India, with support from Malala Foundation, in some districts of Uttar Pradesh. These girl leaders, along with their group members, track the out of school girls, provide the list to respective schools to get the girls enrolled, meet with parents to mobilize them towards their daughters’ education, hold meetings with School Management Committees to seek their help and even organize rallies in villages on girls’ education.
Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview given by Raveena to Citizen News Services (CNS):
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY?
I am a student of Class 9 at Kisan Inter College, Kundarki. We are 5 sisters and one brother. My father is a fruit seller in Moradabad. So, there is no fixed income—it could range anywhere between Rs. 250- 500 per day. We do not have any land of our own. Ours is a big family of 8 members. The money is barely enough to have two square meals a day. That is why my two elder sisters could study only till Class 8 and then they were pulled out of school against their wishes. But, by God’s grace, I and my younger sister are studying in Class 9. The 5th sister is in Class 7 and my brother is in class 3.
DID YOU FACE ANY PROBLEMS IN CONTINUING WITH YOUR STUDIES?
I have faced many problems. The biggest problem is of finances, as there is no steady source of income. Sometimes, I have had to go without shoes or a proper school dress. My two elder sisters were forced to drop out of school against their wishes. I was lucky as I requested volunteers of Nav Bharat Samaj Kalyan Samiti (NBSKS), which is working for the cause of promoting girls’ education, to convince my parents, and they somehow agreed, even though my neighbours and community advised my parents to not send me to school. My elder sisters resent that they have to do most of the household chores, while I go to school. They too want to study, but my parents are not agreeing. NBSKS has been a great help. The organization is very close to our house and is known to my parents. Volunteers from NBSKS have been a great influencing factor. Ours is the first family in our community where girls were sent to school. This is a matter of great pride for me. I love going to school. When I passed class 8 with good marks, I felt very happy. I have a sense of freedom when I get out of my house and go to school.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBSTACLES IN GIRLS’ EDUCATION?
One obstacle is poverty. Another is patriarchy, which makes it more difficult for girls to study. Our Muslim community is very conservative, we still have the purdah system and it is socially unacceptable for grown-up girls to step out of the house. They have to wear a hijab. So, after a certain age, they are forcibly pulled out of school. Boys have all the advantages. They are sent even outside their hometown to study, but not girls. Parents feel it is a waste of money to spend it on their daughter’s education. If at all, they send them to the school in the village but not beyond.
HOW CAN WE CHANGE THIS SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS?
Counselling of parents is very important. There is need to create more awareness in the parents about the advantages of educating their children because without education we cannot progress. If all kids get a chance to study then society will change for the better. As of now, there is a lot of discrimination between boys and girls. This has to end. Parents should give equal opportunities to both daughters and sons to move forward in life. We need more people, like the volunteers of NBSKS, who can convince the elders that education is necessary for their children. The government can help too. The Right to Education Act is a very good law as it guarantees eight years of free and compulsory education for all children aged 6-14 years. It has helped girls to study at least till Class 8. But we need better implementation of this Act.
WHY IS EDUCATION IMPORTANT FOR GIRLS?
An illiterate person is good for nothing in today’s world. Education can make girls financially independent. It is very important for girls to work. This way they can fend for themselves and not be dependent on others. They can lead their lives the way they want to. If they become self- dependent they can take their own decisions and not dance to the tunes of others. Ironically, those very people who oppose girls’ education tooth and nail, change their stance when a girl completes her education and starts working. They then start praising her.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN YOUR VILLAGE?
There is no electricity in my village. Sanitation is very poor, more so because of open defecation and improper drainage. While we have a toilet in our house, many others do not. Open defecation is unhygienic and leads to several health problems and it is also unsafe, especially for women. Then again, I would like to see a change in the mindset of people. Girls and boys should be given equal importance to study and progress in life. My parents too are very conservative. We sisters are not allowed to go out anywhere except to school, while my brother is free to roam around wherever he wants. Society generally thinks that girls should not be given any freedom and must remain housebound. This rigid attitude has resulted in many parents forcing their daughters to drop out of school after class 5 or at the best class 8 (like my two sisters). I want all this to change.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
My father says I should study till class 10. But I want to continue with my studies beyond that. I want to become a teacher after finishing my studies. I want to help other girls to become educated. I plan to get married only after getting a job.
All girls from poor families should get the opportunity to study. I would request parents to send their daughters to school. If the government makes education free up to Class 12, it will be a boon for those parents who cannot afford to spend money on sending their daughters to school. All children, whether girls or boys must study.
[Author’s Note: This interview was originally given in the Hindi language]
Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and has written extensively on health and gender justice over decades. Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or visit CNS: www.citizen-news.org)