Fasting for Education – An Inspiring Saga of Young Women’s Courage

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 29 May 2017

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

29 May 2017 – Haryana is a state that borders the Indian capital of Delhi. It is a state that includes Kurukshetra where the epic battle of Mahabharata was waged. It also has some special features that produce well known male wrestlers. Why not women?

Women and girls are not allowed the freedom that they deserve and is their fundamental right — they are supposed not to have an independent opinion and are required to follow their parents’ and elders’ advice. Even for marriage a young woman is generally asked to marry the man that their father chooses. When a girl does not agree and marries someone else of her own choice, catastrophic consequences may follow — even murder of both the daughter and her husband. This conservative and patriarchal attitude in Haryana is difficult to explain in this short essay.

In such a background an interesting and unusual situation has recently taken place in a village called   Tappa Dahina bordering Delhi. The girls’ school in the village had classes only up to 10th standard whereas schools should ideally have facilities for students to study up to 12th class.

Several attempts had been made to upgrade the school; many petitions had been made, even the village Sarpanch (headman) had been requested but to no avail. Apart from administrative and economic lethargy, there was also the feeling that why should girls study up to class 12? Class 10 was good enough — after all they are girls and would soon be married and higher education was really not necessary for them.

Despite the hardship, some brave girls who still wanted to study beyond 10th class had to go to a school in a neighboring village called Kawali that was about three km away. Walking to this school had its pitfalls — the local boys would often tease them and harass them.

Many of these students and some of their parents who wanted their daughters to continue their studies also put pressure on the local bodies, including the principal of the school to introduce two additional classes but these efforts somehow did not succeed. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi had come up with a slogan “Beti bachao, beti padhao” that meant ‘save the girl child and educate her. This inability of the school to add two additional classes was disheartening and discouraging to say the least, despite the inspiring slogan of the Prime Minister.

But some of these young women were made of sterner stuff. When their efforts at up gradation of the school did not succeed, they decided to do something unheard of — they decided to fast in front of their school. Some of these students remembered their school text that spoke of the fasts that Mahatma Gandhi had undertaken on various occasions – during the Champaran andolan (movement) and the salt Satyagraha in 1930. “If Gandhiji could succeed, let us also try”, some of these brave hearts said and convinced other students as well as their parents to allow them to begin this arduous journey.

About a dozen of these girls sat on a hunger strike that lasted eight days. A few of them even fainted during this ordeal. Some people said that this was foolish; these girls will die and what good will this fast achieve? When girls started fainting an ambulance was called to take them to a local hospital and force fed them. Despite all this hardship both physical and psychological, the girls continued to fast. After a week the Haryana administration woke up. The Education Minister visited the village and assured that the school would be upgraded to Class 12. The students were asked to break their fast but they said “We want a written assurance and not a verbal one.” This was done the next day with a written assurance from a local administrator of the village.

The girls have succeeded and are happy beyond words. They cannot believe that their fast which was a debilitating one physically and emotionally has been a success.

Who says that girls are weak and lack courage and determination? This andolan (movement) will be remembered for a long time and will inspire other women and men to face challenges fearlessly and courageously.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 May 2017.

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