In June, people in a village in Rajasthan’s Jaipur were protesting the establishment of an English medium Government school as it would mean that the existing girls’ school is converted into a co-ed.The reason for the protest was the fact that the parents of girls do not feel comfortable ‘allowing’ their daughters to study with boys. Not just in rural Rajasthan but parents in even metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Surat etc. prefer sending their daughters to ‘girls-only’ schools. The preference of such parents is met by the availability of both public and private education institutions in their area and their daughters continue to get education without any hindrance. However, things get much more complicated in remote and rural areas of the country which lack education institutes dedicated only for girls’ education. The impact is borne by girls who despite having deep interest in education have to give-up on their dreams.
Khalida, a young girl from Surankote block in border district of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir always had this deep desire to pursue education but her parents were against sending her to a co-ed school. After completing Class 8, Khalida was forced to drop-out from the co-ed and was allowed to continue only with the religious teachings that too from her house.
“I had to sacrifice my dreams due to concerns of my parents and because of the lack of girls-only school in my area. There are many girls like me whose dreams of a decent education have been compromised. Had there been a special education institute only for girls in our area, things would definitely have been different,” shared Khalida.
She wasn’t happy leaving her dreams mid-way. After her parents married her, she kept thinking of ways to communicate her desire to her husband. “I was quite sure that I do not want to spend my life as an illiterate. I tried several times but couldn’t collect courage. After a year, I gathered all my will and shared with my husband that I wanted to continue my studies,” said Khalida. To her sheer surprise, her husband turned out to be quite supportive and encouraged her to pursue her dream of education. The presence of a girls-only institute made the decision easy for her husband.
“I enrolled myself in the ninth grade at Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Sheesh Mahal, Poonch. Apart from my husband, teachers at the school were really supportive,” Khalida said. After completing Class 10, Khalida is now preparing to pursue education further.
Dream of a progressive society cannot be achieved without providing equal opportunities of education and growth to girls. Not just as mothers, daughters or sisters who will help educating the entire society but as humans who have the right to be educated and pursue a career for fulfilling their own dreams.
“We have a lot of girl students in this school and understanding the hurdles they have to cross to reach here, we try our best to make better arrangements for their education. In well-developed towns and cities of this country, girls’ education receives equal importance. Many central schemes also promote their education but in areas like Poonch which lack overall basic facilities and infrastructure, providing quality education to girls is a huge challenge. Here, boys are given priority and their dreams are of importance,” explained Adil Hameed, a teacher from Khalida’s school.
Adil believes that both government agencies and non-government organizations will have to work together for improving the situation. “Government should increase the number of education institutes in such remote areas. Presence of girls-only education institutes in nearby locations will encourage parents to support education of their daughters. In the meanwhile, non-government organizations should employ behavioral change activities and aim at changing the attitude of families towards girls’ education,” he added.
(This article has been written under the Sanjoy Ghose Media Fellowship 2019-20)