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Producing Degrees, Not Brilliance: Just A ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ Scheme Won’t Be Enough

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By Aindrila Chaudhuri:

Women’s empowerment has suddenly become the most talked about socio-cultural issue in the South Asia region. A case in point would be the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme that was recently launched in Haryana by the Prime Minister. The Government scheme aims to educate girl children and work towards providing better welfare services for women in the country.

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Education as the Means and the End
There is a general consensus about the fact that for many young girls and women living in a country like India, which is imbibed in deep patriarchal practices, education is an important tool for achieving the goal of empowerment. It equips a person with enough bargaining capabilities in today’s world. In a way, it becomes a means as well as an end in itself.

There are many benefits that can be accrued if girls were to be educated properly. The most visible form of emancipation that education offers women would be political and social awareness. It helps them challenge restrictive gender roles and equips them with better negotiating capabilities. In India, family often becomes the seat of inequality where women’s relationships with men inhibit their mobility and professional success. The media is filled with the overuse of the trope of the self sacrificing woman of the house, be it in the form of the mother, sister, wife etc. This kind of thinking is a direct result of years of gender based conditioning that does not offer girls a fair chance in the society. With proper education and skill sets comes high paying jobs that would help the young adolescent girls gain more negotiating power inside and outside their own homes.

The Visible Class Divide in Schools
However, before we can be totally optimistic about the role of education in a woman’s life, let us first inspect the nature of the schooling system in India. This will help in gauging whether the knowledge being disseminated in the schools actually helps in achieving the above mentioned goals. Let us look at some facts and figures. Wide gender based disparities exist in the education sector in the country. For every 100 boys enrolled in secondary education, there are about 81 girls enrolled. According to UNESCO’s recent report titled ‘Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2014’, 90 per cent of children from poor families in India remain illiterate despite completing four years of school education. These raise some serious questions about the nature of the knowledge being imparted.

While it is true that India has recognized Right to Education as a fundamental right in itself where children below the age of 14 years are supposed to be provided with free education, there are several ground level discrepancies that are quite harmful for children. The Human Rights Watch came out with a report in April, 2014 called ‘They Say We’re Dirty: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized’ which points at heavy discrimination faced by students who belong to certain marginalized communities such as Dalits, Muslims, etc. The common understanding of the school as a level playing field fails completely. Apart from this, there is an increased privatization of education over the past few decades. It has been found that the public and State run schools have shocking drop out levels due to the inadequate infrastructure and poor teaching methods. This has a gendered implication as well. The girl children are more likely to be pulled out of schools at an early age, due to the patriarchal reasoning that women belong to the private sphere (read home front) and do not need education like the male children.

Schools: Producing Degrees, not Brilliance
The teacher-student relationship inside a class is quite complicated. There is a visible power dynamics where the students do not see the teacher as a facilitator of knowledge but rather as someone who comes and simply delivers information. There is no effective engagement with the lived realities the students face. They are taught to memorize the information taught inside the class and are expected to perform well in the exams. In his book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, Paulo Freire talks about the banking system of education where “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat” (Freire, 2000)

No Real Agency for Women
The above lines are important, especially in the context of the post feminist backlash that is gaining popularity in the middle to upper middle class families in the country. The predominant idea is that the goals of feminism have been achieved due to the better economic opportunities being offered to women who are educated. The important question then would be to ask whether this really leads to changes in a young girl’s life? It has been observed that mere holding degrees from prestigious colleges does not somehow guarantee radical changes for women’s lives in the country. The degrees are used in the ‘arranged marriage market’ to attract grooms from suitable families, communities and castes. In a way, women are still left bereft of any real agency with respect to their life choices. A case in point would be the recent murder of a young female student from DU in New Delhi who eloped with her lover from a different caste. Her parents disapproved of the match and ended up committing the so called ‘honour killing’. Interestingly, words like ‘honour’, ’pride’ and ‘shame’ are still attached to women’s bodies and they are collectively seen as gate keepers of the caste system in the country. One tends to ask, where is the empowerment exactly?

It is clear that there is a dire need for initiating structural changes that can somehow uproot the regressive and misogynist practices in the country. Numerous efforts are being made to tackle the gender based inequality but the main question is regarding the sustainability of these projects. Not only is it important for more girls to attend educational institutions but it is imperative to re- structure the system itself. Only then will the goals of feminism be achieved. Until then, it is all still a distant dream.

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  1. Dark Knight

    Feminism is designed to make women feel unworthy for devoting their lives to the people they love. We are told that our differences are “socially conditioned.” Ironically this lie is the actual “social conditioning”. Differences are inborn. For example, males have ten times the level of testosterone as women, and this determines their willingness to take risks etc. That explains why top business people are men.

    1. Shreya

      If this feminism is designed to make me feel unworthy for devoting my life to men around me who do not respect my existence, my identity, my choices, my capabilities, then hell yeah, I am very happy embracing this feminism!
      P.S.: I think this is a new discovery that you have made regarding testosterone being the real factor behind being a top businessman, you should really do more research on this in order to gain international recognition and win the Nobel prize for stupidity!!

    2. Dark Knight

      No ma’am, it is designed to make you feel unworthy for devoting your life to men who respect you, your capabilities and choices.

      P.S. It is not a discovery, it is science.

      Take care.

  2. Suman Roy

    a very good article. It’s true that our education system is corrupted. Our education does not teach us how to develop your morality, how to be self independent and the mentality of fighting against the odds. You mentioned the honor killing, seriously it’s our shame that in 2015 also India does not allow a couple to live their life happily. Now the question is who will change our society? Should we blindly trust our elders ?
    How to restructure this education? The teacher is taking dowry during his own marriage, then how he can teach morality to his students?
    We can blame our education system, that valid also. We watch movies like PK and shout inside multiplex, but later nothing changes us. Same for satyamev jayate.
    I also came to know an incident, where a boy and girl loved each other, but their family did not accept their relation due to caste dissimilarity. And the girl did not fight and happily married someone. Is this the education, morality she learnt ? She got 100/100 in math during her class 12 exam. Her brother adviced “jis raste pe janai nei uske bare e sochu que”. Should I say he is a social boy? We should think. We can read lots of articles, the main thing is we should point out to our very own family. Then India can change.

  3. Aiswarya Ramachandran

    I believe the change should begin from the family level. One must understand that in the animal kingdom women are the most ferocious. This rule has been forgotten by many women themselves. Education must first aim at developing self confidence in women and girls. In India, it is today that we consider girl children to be a burden on the family. Not many today know of Gargi an vedic scholar (a woman) who questioned the origin of all existence and left all the Vedic scholars speechless. We are today I believe in this position where government has to launch Beti Bachao, Beti Padho scheme because we have forgotten our past. As a woman we shower all our love to our family and sacrifice our joys. But as a woman, it is also our responsibility to protect our self-respect, our identity and take pride as women. Education system must change but along with it must change the mentality of the society. Women are the pillars for a strong and a civilised society.It has been said that “The divine are extremely happy where women are respected ;
    where they are not, all actions (projects) are fruitless” .

  4. Apoorva Shrivastava

    Gender discrimination is a major issue that we are facing today.I strongly agree to your views and I really appreciate this article as we need to know the politics behind these schemes.But I wish if you have highlighted the failure of other schemes as well. Well thank you for this wonderful analysis.

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