Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Timeline of an illiterate girl

There are so many girl children in India who are uneducated. The real question is: What are we doing to help fight illiteracy? As published on women's web: http://www.womensweb.in/2013/11/an-illiterate-girl-in-india/

As I was taken out of my laboring mother’s womb, my grandmother was the first to look at me. And she started crying even before I did. Her shrill screech of horror resonated across the room louder than my mother’s pain: “oh no…it has happened…. it’s a GIRL!” She had expected a productive ‘heir’ to the family, a man, a protector who could earn and help the family prosper; not this useless dummy-piece of the girl was later going to be sold with dowry that the family wouldn’t be able to afford. Soon, my father retired to one corner with his head in his hands. That was how I received my welcome, on the very first day I dawned- I was looked at like I was not an infant, but a harmful stone that had been removed from mom’s womb. Later that day, some of my relatives suggested that I be killed or dumped to rot somewhere, disposable as I was. But dear dad took pity on me, and so I have lived long enough to come to this state.
I’m happy that I didn’t understand all this hatred towards me as a girl, when I was little. The truth of my position in life started dawning only later on me. I understood it the first time, as a five year old girl. My cousin brother who was also my age, was to attend school the very first time. “Get him oiled, and bathed, and ready. He must look well groomed! He’s going to the school!” I remember my grandmother say. “What about me? I want to look nice too. Take me with ram! I want to go school!  It will be big and nice and I can play! I know there are nice teachers and books!” I told my grandma, who uncomfortably shifted in her place and exchanged looks with my mother, whose face looked downtrodden upon my innocent words. Of course she knew that I, as a mere girl, wouldn’t be allowed to attend school.
So I never went.  I stayed at home. When I was little, I used to help mom clean the vessels and listen to the gossip of the old ladies on the verandah whenever I got bored.  I used to stare longingly at the beautiful books that ram took to school every day, and envy the way they got bigger every year. Sometimes, I would sit to look at those books, but I wouldn’t understand a word.  Mom soon gave birth again, and to everyone’s delight, to a boy.
In other times, I would look outside at the bus that shuttled back and forth between our village and the town, and wonder how the big, sophisticated town would be like. But I could only go if dad took me, but I was too scared to ask. I knew ram’s school took him on trips to see and observe the town, many a time. He also seemed to be able to easily join in adults’ complex talks of big numbers and cities outside our state, though like me, he was only eight that time. The only news I knew were the local gossip and who fought with whom and which woman has the most marks from domestic abuse. I was terrified because I knew my situation was going to be the same one day.
When I turned twelve, I was sent to work at the construction site of a large house in my village, for a wage of about fifty rupees every day, so that our family could continue to pay for ram’s increasing cost of education as he passed through higher grades and also support the little new arrival of my brother to the family. Ram now sometimes read those enormous paragraphs about money and things on the newspaper. Meanwhile, I learnt to cook a hundred meals to tailor the varied likings of my dad and, then, ram. After working ten hours at the construction site, I would come home and help mom clean up, and then take care of my little brother. At night every day, grandma used to tell me about how I should be when I grew up. She would tell me I’d get married in a couple of years and about duties as a woman. I was a girl, so I had to be humble, I had to be wise enough to rise above my own longings and sacrifice boundlessly. I was a girl, so I should learn to tolerate every sort of treatment, and bear my family’s weight till it crushes me. As a wife, I would have to surrender the utmost god, who my husband, to me, would become. I had to be strong, fully selfless and absolutely tolerant and limitlessly submissive. “Never raise your voice. Don’t give your opinion if it’s not requested for. Don’t have contacts with men, as you are growing older. Otherwise, I’d be an incapable woman worthy of scorn...” and so she would preach. This was my only education.
Then, a disaster befell. Mom got severely ill, and then died.
Dad then told a twelve year old me that I was in charge of all the household duties.  For a couple of years after that, I was the new mother in the family, to my little brother and to my cousins including ram. Doing household chores and taking care of everyone became my life.
Then, just as my grandmother’s words had it, I was married at the age of fifteen. I saw my groom the hour he was to marry me. Following the duties that had been so well etched on my heart, I showed nothing on my face and remained silent. He looked okay, but his manner was disturbing to me. I could, of course do nothing about it. That evening before leaving with him, I went to my mother, and cried. She cried with me.  The groom, she told me, had been dad’s decision. She had tried to convince dad to not accept this man’s proposal, but as he was the only affordable groom with a relatively moderate dowry, dad had to subside.
Soon I joined my village club of abused women, but I was luckier than most. Most of the time, this man acted lovingly.
Soon, I got pregnant. This was the most joyous time of my life, and for a while he was completely gentle. And then my baby, another girl child was born. I accepted her with all my love, though the same reaction didn’t emerge from the rest of my family.
One fine night, when our child was one, my husband left me. Searches were made, and my dad nearly collapsed in terror, women picked hungrily on this fresh topic, and I was stricken with fright and anxiety. But he was not found.
After that, I returned again to my father’s house, to raise my daughter.
Today, several years later, I am helpless. I still do not know the alphabet. My dad has died. My daughter is married. Today, with no literacy, I hover, in midair. With no honor, no source of income. I don’t know who to reach for. I am now, a beggar on the streets, who saw you as you passed by me today.
I am not alone. One in every three girls in India is illiterate. And oh yes, we are in a very good position in life, as you can see. And this is your country, India, just as it is mine. What are you doing about this issue?

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, Keertana, just stopped by to read your blog.
    Unfortunately, it is completely unreadable (due to the theme).
    So just thought I'd say hello.