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No Dedicated Teachers, Inadequate Infrastructure Contribute In Keeping Girls Out Of School

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement supported by Malala Fund to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

By Anjuman Begum:

There is a need for a substantive approach for the empowerment of women in marginalised communities through education, especially on the tea estates of Assam. But it is still a tall order.

No dedicated teachers, inadequate infrastructure, no congenial atmosphere to motivate students contribute in keeping girls out of school. There is also more stress on marriage for girls than education, low income of the parents, gender discrimination, the widespread perception that they will work as labourers in the tea garden that doesn’t require formal education etc. are harming education in the tea gardens. Being confined in the tea estates, cut off from the mainland area, deprives the community of exposure to the outside world to understand the need for education.

Himonti’s Story

Himonti Ghatwar

Himonti, a 22 years old single woman and a school dropout, from Gotonga tea state, Jorhat has no support from her family, so she started working. With her little income, she supported her sister’s education. “She wanted to study further. But when we are sinking in a river, we need to survive first and then we can think of education”, she says.

Himonti’s younger sister, Himalti failed in 10th standard, and since then she lost all motivation to study further. Lack of support from the family and economic hardship are holding her back.

Daughters are not preferred in her family and are subjected to domestic violence by her father and brothers. In a sexist society that places importance on boys, Himonti is barred from an education that can help her to raise her social capital.

A Gendered Existence

In a family of seven children, Himonti and her sister were the last two girls. Looking after them and household chores were too much of a burden on her mother. Domestic violence and alcoholism of the father further made her life miserable.

Due to the stress of her situation and blood pressure, their mother suffered a stroke and lost mobility in half of her body. “Since then our life has become hell. Daughters lost all the support from the family”, said Himonti.

Their mother was their emotional support, and she used to speak against the ill treatment by the sons and husband. “All the three women in the home are like animals, slaves and continuous ill-treatment was reserved for us”, said Himonti. Himonti’s parents and brothers have been informally taught and are daily wagers in tea gardens who don’t understand the importance of education.

An Escape?

Finding domestic violence unbearable, four years ago, Himonti and her sister started living separately. They were allotted one small room in the house that hardly fit two people. With great effort, the two sisters made it home. Himonti started working in the tea garden as a tea leaves plucker and earned about ₹3000 a month. She even managed to save ₹1000 for an emergency.

Himonti failed in class 10th standard, and since then she dropped her studies. Now her sister Himalti too failed, and due to an abusive situation in the family, she lost motivation to continue further. Himalti decided to get married to relieve herself from domestic violence.

Caste On Tea Estates

But nobody liked the boy she decided to marry because of caste differences. Villagers opposed too! Himonti and Himalti decided to go ahead. In March 2020, she eloped with the boy and got married.

Their family did not support the marriage. Himonti was asked to leave the house on the excuse that the smog from her kitchen causes suffocation to others. By that time lockdown started, she became homeless. One generous neighbour came to her rescue and offered to let her stay with them for the time being. Once the lockdown is lifted, Himonti has to find a shelter for herself to carry forward her life. She has ₹1000 as savings in her hand.

Struggles like this are ongoing for generations in the tea gardens of Assam. Educational policies and schemes to promote education in Assam include Mahila Samakhy (1989), District Primary Education Program (1994), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (1995), Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (2000) and the National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (2003-04).

But they require a proper review of its implementation in the tea gardens and assess it proved instrumental for the upliftment of the community. Education without economic empowerment will not yield any successful result for the tea garden community in Assam as it is lagging in terms of gender and basic income for a life with dignity.

This post is a part of Stories From Assam, a special series under the #BackToSchool campaign. Tell us how this lockdown has affected your education! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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