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Even after 75 years of independence, we needlessly adhere to shallow ideals and orthodox traditions, due to which several girls in our country have been deprived of the freedom to pursue their dreams.
There are countless subdued dreams of young girls residing in the remote villages of Bageshwar, one of the 13 districts in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
Bageshwar, which was erstwhile a part of Almora district, was divided into three development blocks: Bageshwar, Garur, and Kapkot, to speed up the pace of development. But even after two decades, the district still lacks several development parameters, which severely impact adolescent girls’ lives.
For a group of young girls from Charson village in Bageshwar’s Garur block, development means having access to a proper road infrastructure that allows them to attend school and visit the market without depending on their family members.
Their parents, concerned about their safety, do not allow them to venture out through the forest on their own. While for boys, the absence of roads doesn’t really restrict their mobility. They have easy access and permission to visit markets, friends, play games etc. the way they want.
Social and gender inequality inevitably play a major role in deciding access to the available facilities or, in other words, the participation and representation in the development processes of the country.
Girls residing in Utraura in Kapkot, another development block of the same district, are not very comfortable with the prevailing gender inequalities and conservative traditions in their village.
Chitra Joshi, a teenager from the village, said that they have accepted inconveniences simply because they are girls.
“There are very few girls in our village who have a job. It is not that we are capable, but it is because we do not have as many opportunities as compared to the boys as our families do not want to spend money on us,” she said.
Thus, the question arises, have the intentions of development policies been translated into action in the villages where girls like Chitra reside?
The answer is no and Baghar – the last village on the Kumaon border tell us why.
It is a village in the Kapkot development block, but completely different from villages like Utraura. Baghar has remained isolated and marginalised due to a lack of connectivity with the rest of the state. The route to this village tucked away in the Himalayan mountains is quite narrow and risky.
“One has to walk for several kilometres to reach this village after getting down the last motorable road at…”
The moment one arrives in this village, it is like going 10–15 years back in time.
There will be no network on their phones. One could find people using the ‘non’ smartphones, mud houses with people cooking food on chulhas, using firewood and other features quintessential of an Indian village. As if they were scenes from the cinema of the 80s.
From the lens of basic development infrastructure, no healthcare centres are available.
Anganwadi centres, too, are not active. After Class 10, the closest higher secondary school is a two-hour walk from the village. Several girls are unable to continue their studies after Class 10.
“Sometimes due to the financial conditions, sometimes due to narrow thinking of parents and sometimes both, most girls are not able to continue their education after Class 10, as most of the institutions for higher education are far away,” expressed Krishna, a student of Class 7.
Sarita (name changed), another teenager from the village, who has completed Class 12, shared that the prospect of higher studies is quite unlikely for her as her family members disapprove of the same. Despite this, Sarita dares to dream and wants to become a police officer.
She also wants to spread awareness in her village that education is everyone’s right and that the discrimination between boys and girls should end.
Sarita believes that girls in her village are deprived of their basic rights and the social-cultural factors influence this gender bias.
In her village, a menstruating girl has to stay outside the house in a cowshed (and in very few cases, an outhouse) for a whole week and is considered untouchable during this time. The girls in the village are made to believe that this is a traditional practice inherited from their ancestors and should not be questioned.
Those who question these practices are scolded by their parents and discouraged to talk about menstruation to anyone.
Teachers, who have migrated to this village, too are not allowed to stay in their rented accommodation during their periods.
During Covid-19, the dream of Digital India became irrelevant in these border villages, where children, mostly girls, had to part from their studies simply because of the lack of internet connectivity in their village.
Even the constitution of our country – the very basis of our democracy, loses significance here, as girls in these remote villages are treated as second-class citizens.
The lived realities of these young girls tell us that it is of utmost importance for developmental policies to be inclusive of all genders, ages, and classes.
Only then the girls from these remote villages will be able to benefit from all the opportunities that have been denied to them for centuries.
The article was first published in Counter Currents.
Adarsh Pal, the writer, is a final year student of MA Development Studies at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.
Image source: CanvaPro
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