Through the web of examinations, peer pressure, social stigma and familial obligations, only 3% of women in India make their way to a university, compared to 6% of men.
One such girl made her way to the admission counter last year, her timid hands grasping at her marksheet as she came up for subject counselling. The teachers were impressed to see her grades – she was a bright student who had done her schooling from a Hindi-medium institution. Having looked through her preferences, the counsellor ticked the box next to economics. But before she could proceed, a burly middle-aged man walked up to the desk and demanded that his daughter be given “englisss”’ as a subsidiary subject.
The counsellor appeared baffled and said that the girl has scored well in Economics. Then why does her father want her to opt for a language she has no experience in? In the deep ominous voice of a controlling patriarch, the father replied, “English will enhance her marriage prospects.” This scene shook my high-flying feminist ideals to the core. One would think that after about 70 years of independence, Indian society would be well on its way to becoming a modern thought coliseum. But in reality what does it mean to be a girl in modern India? We are told that freedom of expression and the right to education are precursors of feminist thoughts and gender equality. But it seems now that gender roles are so perpetually ingrained in the social system that equality of the sexes is a faraway dream.
In reality what does it really mean to be a girl in modern India? We are told that freedom of expression and the right to education are precursors of feminist thoughts and gender equality. But it seems now that gender roles are so perpetually ingrained in the social system that equality of the sexes is a faraway dream.
As if it was not enough to question the purpose of education in a girl’s life, and the role it plays in her personality development, the interaction between the counsellor and the ‘socially conscious’ father took a heinous turn when the teacher pointed out, “Your daughter won’t be able to learn English because she doesn’t understand the language.” This outraged the father and he bellowed, “Maar maar ke, daant daant ke, rataa doonga (I will beat her, scold her, I will make her memorise all of it).”
Lo and behold! ‘Education’ that is often considered the beacon of hope was turned into a tool of social oppression in a matter of seconds and the voice of that timid girl lay buried under the weight of her social obligations. Even though the counsellor tried to convince her to talk to her father and opt for economics, her mindset did not allow her to form her own opinions and go against the tyranny of patriarchal oppression.
After all, a promising career is still not the future of a girl child; her story still takes her high up to the bell tower of captivity from where her unseen future husband will supposedly rescue her. And thus, another link of male tyranny is added to the shackles that tie down women to the lowest rung of the social ladder.
Aleena Khan is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the February-March 2017 batch.