With the debates around feminism and women empowerment briskly doing the rounds, questions around the applicability of these concepts have emerged.
Very often, words like ‘empowerment’, ‘independence’ and ‘equality’ emerge within an urban context. They might have heterogeneous connotations that cut across caste and class but predominantly remain within the precincts of the urbane as matters of intellectual debate.
The effort for women empowerment through the feminist discourse is practically being applied in the rural education sector by a group of like-minded individuals who visualise an all equal, discrimination-free world.
This is a school in Bulandshahr which is transforming these ideas into a reality.
WHAT IS THE ‘PARDADA PARDADI’ EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY?
The brainchild of Virendra Singh, Pardada Pardadi educational society is an initiative that began in 2000. After quitting a corporate job in the USA, Singh came back to his native village, Anupshahr in Bulandhshahr district, to pursue his calling.
The organisation aims to empower women and girls socially, economically and make them independent. It fosters an environment of debate, discussion, questioning and critiquing existing social and economic relations.
EDUCATION AND BEYOND
The society caters to 1,400 young girls. They are provided with free education, job opportunities, healthcare and livelihood enhancement opportunities. The effort is to cull them out of poverty.
The organisation runs four schools in affiliation with the UP board, and the girls are taught everything from English, Mathematics, Sciences, Social Sciences etc.
Personality development through art, literature, theatre, and public speaking is also taught. The girls are taught to question and evolve into independent thinkers and self-learners.
Since most of these girls come from not-so-well-to-do backgrounds, Rs. 10 is added each day to their accounts as a marker of attendance. Additionally, they are given three meals a day and provided with uniforms and books.
CHANNELISING HOLISTIC DEVELOPMENT
The girls are taught entrepreneurship skills through embroidery, stitching and other crafts. They are given guidance and resources for higher education and job opportunities.
At present, 72 PPES girls are working successfully in the IT and medical sectors. The organisation is attempting to make as many women economically independent as possible.
Additionally, for women who are working in the agricultural sector, PPES has generated opportunities for easy loans with the creation of Self-Help Groups(SHGs) and community development divisions.
They are being offered better capital for agricultural development and are becoming more aware of their rights and opportunities.
There are a full-time school nurse and staff that is available six days a week and in 2016 PPES set up Prana Health Care with an aim to provide accessible and cheap healthcare to the girls and the people of the village.
With a fully stocked pharmacy, equipment and staff, the clinic are changing lives.
QUESTIONING PATRIARCHAL STRUCTURES
This is perhaps one of the most important things being taught by the PPES. Lessons on women empowerment and gender equality are a major part of the curriculum. Pictures of strong independent women like Kalpana Chawla, Annie Bessant, dot the school walls.
Young girls are made to question existing social structures of patriarchy that reinforce gender roles.
A consciousness is now emerging within them.
“Our stepmother wants us to get married, but I am determined to study and work”, said a 17-year-old from PPES.
They often ask questions like “Why is my brother given more food than me?” or “Why can’t I study further?”
They are taught to ask for what is theirs at home and outside unapologetically.
They have to recite a few commandments every day, they go something like this:
# I will not get married before 18
# I will not marry an uneducated man
# I will work after marriage
It’s positively overwhelming to see such a change happen at this level. It is only a matter of inculcating ideas of equality, empowerment and independence within the minds of young boys and girls which would ultimately lead to a discrimination-free society.