Matter of Choice: Notes from the Community II

On my visit to the community, I met Ayaz bhai (whom I wrote about in an earlier blog), and his shop was my stop for the few days I was in the community. During my visit I had the fortune to meet some women from the community. In this blog, I try to chronicle my brief interaction with these women and dedicate this blog to them.

‘My mother is unique’.

As parents of eligible children come and go to get the application form filled, I notice two girls busy filling forms, interacting with the parents and trying to address their concerns. One of them, Suhana*, is the centre in-charge and is supporting my host organisation in filling of the application forms.

Suhana, a burka clad 17 year old, filling in applications on the computer.
Suhana, a 17 year old, filling in applications on the computer.

Suhana is a 17-year old who is about to start her 11th grade soon. For her vacations, she decided to support our application centre to earn some pocket money. The wallpaper of the computer she works on is the photo of Allu Arjun, her favorite actor! As I stare at the photo for more than half a minute, Suhana tells me that she is a ‘huge huge’ fan of Allu Arjun and loves watching his movies on her mobile phone. But watching movies is not allowed at her home.

Suhana’s family consists of her parents, an elder sister, and two younger brothers. Her father is an auto-driver and mother teaches in a Madrasa. Suhana calls her mother unique. Her mother even though very strict has been her pillar of strength, encouraging her to study and work. While interacting with her, one notices that Suhana always talks to us in English. She recalled, ‘in school my teacher made sure everyone spoke English in class’. At home it’s only her elder sister with whom she interacts with in English. Suhana says that knowing English is very important for the youth in the present times.

Suhana’s motivation to work for ensuring education for disadvantaged children is personal. As a child, she has seen her parents struggling to make a living, but still wanted their children including daughters to get a proper education. She recalls that in her immediate family girls are not encouraged to pursue higher studies and that she is unable to understand why it is so.

‘I look different, no?’

As Suhana gets busy with the parents, the other girl I get an opportunity to talk to is Sameena*, a 20-year old employee in Ayaz bhai’s shop. She assists and guides people in getting their documents made. She has a father, one brother and four sisters in her family. Before she started working, her brother who is a tailor was the only earning member of the family.

Two years ago, she had come to Ayaz bhai’s shop to get a printout of her certificate, when he had asked her what her plans were. Not many women in Sameena’s family had worked earlier, but she knew she wanted to. With Ayaz bhai’s help she convinced her family to let her step out of the boundaries of her home and work in the shop.

Sameena managing the photocopier machine.
Sameena managing the photocopier machine.

Other than working, Sameena loves to chat with her friends and visit the mall. She showed me pictures of her and her friends in the mall in her phone. It was difficult for me to figure out which one was she as she is dressed like anyone else in the photo and is not wearing a burka. She then pointed to herself in the photo and said ‘I look different, no?’

Sameena considers herself lucky that she gets to use a cellphone (which her sisters couldn’t when they were young), and to work. But most importantly, that she gets to take her own decisions. I try to understand what she means by that and she says that her family had wanted her to get married, but she said she wasn’t ready and they respected her wishes.

Sameena wants to be different than others around her. She has three dreams for her life: to own a scooty (a scooter, generally lighter in weight, mostly used by women), to help in jail (to do a noble something for the benefit of the society), and to have a love marriage (to be able to marry the person she falls in love with instead of her family arranging a match for her).

Sameena mentioned that she is very proud of herself, because now that she helps people in making documents as part of her work, people in the area know her, and sometimes they tell her family that ‘aapki bacchi’ (your kid) is doing a good job.

‘Meri bacchi ki zindagi ban jayegi.’ (My daughter’s future will be ensured)

As I go about spending my day at the centre supporting my colleague while she fills in the application, I meet Rubina* who has come to the centre to get an application filled for her daughter who has an orthopedic disability.

Rubina doesn’t remember her age, but knows that she was born in the year 1992. Rubina has been married for about eight years and has three children, two daughters and a son. Rubina had completed her schooling and was also teaching kids in a school near her house when she got married. Her husband is a tailor.

Rubina (R) in the printed burka, with her sister (L), waiting at the shop to get the application form filled for her daughter.
Rubina (R) in the printed burka, with her sister (L), waiting at the shop to get the application form filled for her daughter.

Her eldest daughter is six years old and has polio. She has been going to a special school for more than a year now, and her other two children are going to the anganwadi centres. Rubina came to know about the provision 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act, which makes it possible for children from socially and economically disadvantaged communities to study in private schools from her elder sister. Rubina decided that she wanted her daughter to study in a private school so that she can make something of her life when she grows up. Though Rubina was happy with the improvements her daughter had shown at the special school, Rubina believes that a private school education with other students would hold her in good stead.

My encounters with these three women revealed the grit and tenacity each of them has shown when life has dealt them a bad hand. Suhana still in school, though rues the fact that though she is not able to watch movies with her family, appreciates the strong role her mother has played in supporting her education, despite the displeasure of her extended family. Sameena remains self-confident and aims to fulfill all her dreams even though she has to hide her photos without the burka from her family members. Rubina believes in inclusion and a bright future of her daughter and is leaving no stone unturned to make this a reality, even when sometimes the society doubts the potential of her daughter with disability.

All these women in their own small way are inspirational for taking control of and changing their lives and the mindset of those around them one small choice at a time. More power to them and many others like them!

*Names of all the women have been changed to protect their privacy.

Deepika, born and brought up in the city of New Delhi, graduated from University of Delhi and then pursued M.A. in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai. After the completion of her post graduation, she has been working in the development sector, which has helped her gain an understanding of various dimensions of her interest areas which are mainly health, disability, advocacy, and women’s rights. Most recently, she was associated with a start-up working to provide accessible travel solutions to persons with disabilities, where some of her responsibilities included exploring and pursuing advocacy and collaboration opportunities with government and non-government agencies, curation of international and national alliances and media interfacing and communications. Deepika believes that her education in social work has guided her to understand that service to others is not just charity. Deepika believes service is about by pushing forward the agenda for inclusion and rights of people. Her professional experience has further strengthened this philosophy. Her motivation is the hope and belief that we can bring about changes irrespective of how huge or small they are. Deepika was a participant of the Summer School for Future International Development Leaders 2017, a program organized by IIM Udaipur and Duke University.

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