For every girl who’s educated, it’s the last of an uneducated mother
For every mother who’s educated, there’s a higher chance for an educated daughter
Every educated daughter goes through life as a more aware individual.
Meora Village, Kumaon, Uttarakhand: In a little village nestled in the low lying hills of Kumaon, Uttarakhand, we met 90 year old Bhavani Devi. She came to Meora village as a young bride, married off when she was barely 11. She never got the chance to go to school.
A few decades later, Bali Ram her third son, married a beautiful young girl, Heera Devi. Like her mother-in-law, Heera Devi too was married off as a child and could never go to school.
“Things will be different for my daughters,” a young Heera Devi had thought to herself back then.
She wanted her children to study as much as they could and not lead a life with the handicap of not being able to read or write. Her husband Bali Ram shared the same dreams and staunchly stood by Heera Devi, when it came to educating their children. They never discriminated between their sons and daughters and all four of them – two boys and two girls, were sent to school.
Despite being unlettered herself, Heera Devi understood the importance of gender equality. “If brothers and sisters study the same amount, they will stand as equals, there will be a balance. That is how they will develop their relationship and support each other,” she told us.
She and her mother-in-law may not have spent their childhood with books, but that has not deterred Heera Devi from opening a world of possibilities for her daughters.
Her older daughter Uma is now 22 years old and has developed a passion for learning and teaching. Every morning at 7:30am, Uma goes to the Computer Centre, where she’s training to become a computer teacher. Her parents have never seen a computer but when Uma wanted to the learn the ‘Unknown’ – they supported her wholeheartedly.
An NGO opened the computer centre in 2013 and trains batches of 10 students, thrice a year.
Despite the difficult hilly terrain, students come from as far as 45 kms, using all means of transport possible. There are some who even walk 15 kms daily. The computer centre has seen over 800 students in just 3 years, most of them girls. Boys have the option to go to nearby towns like Nanital and Haldwani to pursue further education but the girls don’t have that option and stay back in the village. With no colleges nearby, this computer centre is one of the few options for young girls who wish to study beyond class 12.
Opportunities may be limited, but the desire to learn still runs high. Deep down Uma wants people to look up to her, the way they look up to their gurus.
Respect, that’s what these young girls are studying for, and desire to attain respect has become a possibility with education.
Without realising it, Uma has paved the way and become an inspiration for her little sister, Sangeeta. Protected, pampered and loved by all, Sangeeta is the first in the family to learn English. In class 11th now, Sangeeta goes to SNS Negi, Rajkiya Inter College, Nathukhan, which opened its doors to girls for secondary education as recently as 2005.
Of the 218 students in the senior school, 50 per cent are girls. This is not an unusual sight in the hills. This is not a region where early marriage or lack of education prevailed due to gender bias. It was just prevalent due to lack of opportunities. The moment opportunities arose, the girls came flocking in.
For many of them, going to school is not just about learning how to read and write. It’s the time to make friends, share stories, dream together and eventually learn to take more informed decisions about their lives. Like Sangeeta, who wants to attend college after school and go on to join the police or armed forces. Even Uma dreams of travelling the length and breadth of her country, despite being from a place where most women’s lives are confined to a world within a 50 km radius.
Education has given them this self-confidence.
Heera Devi has fulfilled her dream of educating her daughters and bringing them up in an environment where going to school is a way of life. These girls along with their two brothers juggle between pursuing studies, household chores, making newspaper bags for their father’s shop, gathering hay for cattle, working in the fields, among other tasks.
And they balance it all with ease and a genuine smile.