As per UN statistics, current primary school enrolment rates are as high as 88% and the female literacy rate has risen by about 20% in the last two decades; though ‘enrolment’ is not quite equal to ‘attendance’, and neither does ‘literacy’ equal ‘learning’, this is still a significant change. There’s a shift occurring here, slowly but surely.
Two real-life episodes that illustrate the change in attitudes are described below:
First there’s R bai, a feisty lady that works as a maid in Mumbai. This lady’s daughter is getting married to a man she fell in love with. R bai says that she doesn’t really care which rituals are conducted during the marriage ceremony, she doesn’t even care whether the couple undergoes the saat pheras or not, what she is insisting on is that the marriage be registered in court. She feels that rituals do not put any pressure on the guy to actually take care of her precious daughter; and that the lack of a document that can stand up in court implies that they have no recourse to legal action if he ever deserts her or ill-treats her. Three cheers for R bai for thinking of legal action against an errant son-in-law and not echoing the ‘beti shaadi ke baad paraayaa dhan hai’ sentiment!
Another heartening story is one of a kabaadiwaala in Delhi, let’s call him K. For some time, when illiterate K goes house-to-house buying old newspapers and magazines for reselling, he has been requesting housewives on his paper-route to point out to him articles about travel and give those magazines to him free. Why? Because his daughter was attending classes for a travel – and – tourism related training and needed material for her assignments and project submissions. Apparently, K had decided years ago that he would educate both his children, not just the son as many of his friends did; he was determined to ensure that his daughter would be able to stand on her own two feet and never be forced to stay trapped in an unhappy or abusive marriage due to being financially dependent on her husband.
Earlier this year, K’s ambitions were fulfilled; his daughter completed her course and got a government job.
Zenobia D. Driver