Boys can fulfil all their dreams; girls’ aspirations remain a dream.

The fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS) undertaken by the government between 2019 and 2021 has painted a promising picture in terms of gender equality. Its findings state that India now has 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. This is the first time in independent India’s recorded history that the number of women is higher. This shows that the measures taken against female foeticide and protecting the girl child have yielded some results. This probably can also be taken as an indication towards change in the mindset where there is a greater focus on equality between the genders.

However, in a world where we are made to believe that ‘allowing’ a girl child to be born is a step towards equality, one can only imagine the behavior and attitudes of such societies towards girl and women. Life of young girls and women is a daily struggle. In rural India, the girls are marred by the double challenge of gender discrimination and then lack of development. In the hilly state of Uttarakhand, the remote villages paint a reality different from the tall claims of gender equality in the country. Lack of education and the access to it keep many girls away from the digital world of learning and understanding. A lack of understanding translates into a lack of awareness of one’s rights.

Here, in these villages overpowered by the characteristics of traditional, feudal societies, young girls are subjected to different forms of gendered based violence, which includes violation of their right to education. While boys are sent to private schools, the girls, if allowed to pursue education, can only attend government schools accessible within walking distance of their houses. Once they complete schooling in these primary and middle schools, due to lack of availability of higher secondary schools in their villages, they are made to drop out and forced into marriages. Although they are sent to their in-laws’ house only after they complete their legal age for marriage, it kills their dream, their freedom.

Deepa Jetha, a young girl from Gani Gaon village, which is 25 kilometers from Garur block headquarter in Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand testifies this. “I wanted to study further and dreamt of becoming a teacher. Although I didn’t want to, my father got me married. Now, I am pregnant. All my dreams of working will just remain dreams.”

There are many girls in this village, who are not only good in academics but also are talented painters, poets and story writers. With a proper platform given to them, they can justify their talents not only nationally but on international platforms as well. But they do not get this much-deserved opportunity and because of this, the scope of their art remains confined. Girls are not educated because their family members believe that they will anyway move out of the house after they get married, and their education would be of no use.

Their right to education, clearly, depends on the decision taken by the patriarch. Women, for ages, have not been allowed to enter the decision-making roles. In urban areas, we do see women’s participation and representation in decision-making roles both personal and professional spaces but in rural areas, there is not even a discussion happening around women and girls occupying such spaces.

Himani Rawal, a resident of Selani village says, “My father makes all the decisions in our house. He doesn’t allow my mother to speak anywhere even though it’s my mother who looks after the house and manages the work in the fields.” Inside the house, or outside it, the condition of the women is the same. Manisha Devi, the sarpanch of Gani Gaon village, says, “I’m definitely the rightful village head but this remains only on paper. Any decision in the village meeting is taken only by the men. Women often don’t attend these meetings because no one listens to them. Even in matters of representing the village outside, only the men are sent.”

Whether it is the matter of right to ancestral property or fundamental rights like education, the rights of the girl are overlooked. The question then arises is would this thinking ever change? Will girls ever be encouraged to go forth and study like boys in these areas?

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However, there are some people who think differently. Madan Singh Rawat, a resident of Gani Gaon and a father of five daughters, says, “Two of my daughters are working. I’ve not stopped them from doing anything. I have one son as well but I have never differentiated between my son and daughters. In today’s times, daughters can do what sons cannot.” On the general mindset of his village, Rawat explains, “People usually educate their sons more than their daughters. They fulfil all the dreams of their sons. Girls are barely allowed to study till Class XII. College education is a distant dream for most of them.”

While urban India may celebrate a better sex ratio, the realization of equality and a better world is far away from the rural reality where the notion of distinction between the capabilities of boys and girls exists, where boys are encouraged to progress more than girls and given priority in every matter. When some parents try to go against this belief and think about sending their daughters to college, they are discouraged by the society and asked to follow suit.

Even though there are many schemes employed at the grassroots for the development of women and girls, the benefits don’t reach them due to lack of awareness. Education too can only follow awareness. Even after 75 years of independence, if we have to discuss gender-based discrimination in our society, it is time for the policymakers to think, rework and implement schemes that will work on addressing the gendered attitudes than providing us data that doesn’t reflect the ‘real’ reality.

The article was earlier published in the Grassroots Magazine.

Hema Rawal, the writer, is a resident of Gani Gaon of Bageshwar district in Uttarakhand. She is an adolescent girl leader providing digital literacy skills to her peers in this remote village.

 Charkha Features

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