I was once assigned to conduct a community outreach program in my school wherein we had to visit a rural school. I was excited to meet those children as interacting with people has always been my forte. My experience with those young minds was surreal as I saw them studying in groups, being responsive to their teachers, and it made me happy that they are so willing to learn and are inquisitive about different stuff. Yet, one thing which I can't seem to forget is my interaction with a young girl there who was studying in the fifth standard. I didn't expect her to answer my questions or rather even talk to me but once she got comfortable around me, she started speaking. When I asked her what it is that she wants to achieve in her life, she became quiet. And in her silence, I realized that she isn't even sure if she will be able to continue with her education further.

Gender Bias, household, destitution, the list is long when it comes to hindrance to a girl's education

In a country like India where only one in a hundred girls enrolled in school completes her secondary education, I wonder how can these girls realize their potential of what they are capable of doing or the fact that our country will prosper because seemingly when we educate a girl, we educate a whole nation. Quite a paradox, isn't it?  For several decades now, social activists and policymakers have expressed the urgency of educating the girl child. However, millions of girls are still excluded. In India, almost 40 percent of adolescent girls do not go to school. Now if all these out-of-school girls made up a whole country, it wouldn't be wrong to say that it would be the tenth-largest in the world.

We talk about providing equal opportunities to them, we talk about giving proper representation to them in different sectors but when 65.5% is the female literacy rate in our country, as opposed to 82.1% male literacy, I am sorry to say this but all these assertions seem futile. It sounds all ambitious and promising, but the ground reality says otherwise. When I visited that school, many girls were dubious about their future. They wanted to make the most use of the opportunity which was provided to them because they never know when they will be expected to drop out from school, only because that's how it has been since the start, that's how we have promoted education in our society: that girls are not required to get themselves educated and even if they do a job is certainly not on the plate because yet what is preferred from them is being at home and taking care of her ménage. 

My maid's daughter is only eleven years old. And when I asked her if she goes to school, she told me," No beta, I have to wake up early in the morning for my work and apart from my eldest daughter I have two more children. So she has to stay at home to take care of her siblings. I cannot afford for her to study and go to school as I am the breadwinner of my family." Her daughter wants to study but under the tormenting distress of her finances and the niggling obstacle of her household, she has to shoulder the burden of care and housework. When she should be ideally in school, exploring diverse subjects to study and build a future for herself, she is there at home taking care of her kinfolk in her mother's absence. And not to disregard the fact that she isn't solely the one who is staying at home, crushing her pursuits under this spiralling crisis of girl's education in our country, but there are many more! The right to education was a landmark achievement for our country as it gave all of us hope that all children will be entitled to free and compulsory education. But will Indian girls be able to go? This was a skepticism hidden in the question. But this skepticism is a fact now, with the above-mentioned incidents coming to light.

Parents are ready to send their daughters to school, but what's stopping that? 

Although there do exist many instances in which parents are willing to send their daughters to schools if the schools are made locally accessible and the safety of these girls are ensured. Howbeit, misplaced policies and roadmaps are a hindrance to establishing that. To give an idea about it, let's talk about the well known 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' scheme which is a general drive towards reducing the gender gap in our country's education system. This policy aims towards ensuring the survival and protection of the girl child of the nation and providing equal opportunities to them. Along with it, this campaign also attempts to address the prevailing social negatives which hinder the growth of girl-child across the country. Again this is a great initiative but the developments on the ground, well they speak otherwise as they have. The government has allocated 100 crores for the ongoing campaign and 50 crores for women's safety in public transport but the question that remains blurry is how much of it has been invested in these purposes because to understand the unsafe conditions of women in public transportation, no statistical data is required. And when it comes to their protection, it might not be surprising to know that what the campaign claims and promised, hasn't been achieved nonetheless. The National Crime Bureau Data has revealed that crimes against girl children are still rising with Uttar Pradesh having the most instances. Additionally, the campaign fails to address the root cause behind the social perils of female infanticide and gender roles. Female infanticide has been outlawed, albeit it is still an underground practice. Kudos to us!

Image source: CNBC.com 

Awareness about the significance of education is essential for these girls' families to bring in a difference 

Notwithstanding all these, girls are still achieving a high echelon on the educational front. Even during the past years, girls from different sectors have entered the realm of higher education with full gusto which is also backed up by statistics. Nevertheless, we should receive this news with a pinch of salt. Is increasing enrollment enough when we all know that these averages hide gaps that don't come to light often. And why do these girls have to struggle to get themselves educated, to fight for those opportunities which rightfully belong to them, or which should rightfully belong to them?  The need of the hour is to understand that education is not a form of consumption that is going to be an expenditure for the government, rather it serves as an investment that is going to boost the economic worth of our country. Therefore education is a vital factor of development. Quality education has linked progress to improved health of people, reduced penury and facilitated gender equality which has decided the fate of many nations. And thus it can't be stressed further that there is a necessity to let these families know about sufficient information regarding education so that they will know what it is that they are letting their daughters miss on.

Image Source: The Mint

All they want from us is to believe in them and support them 

As I conclude this article, I wonder what it is that I want the people to know because patently this isn't the first time you are reading about girl education or women empowerment. Several articles all over the internet convey the stories of numerous such girls who are deprived of opportunities either because they can't fight the intransigent status quo or even if they can, they don't find the appropriate conditions to continue with. Further, over the years, various schemes and campaigns have been introduced by governments in power, but only as an act of tokenism, instead of addressing the clear inequality and patriarchy conditioning of ground reality. Many of us are blessed because we come from families where our opinions and choices are valued but something which is coming to us normally, might be a huge desire for someone else. Most women and girls still pray and hope that one day their dreams will come true, that one day they will not be forbidden from doing what they want to do and nothing would be imposed on them. This might sound a bit overemphasized but when you look around and meet one of those girls who would love being in our shoes and experience the kind of privileges we have and when you will look into those eyes which shine bright with aspirations and will, that is when you will realize there is still a lot to be achieved, irrespective of all the articles published yet and of all the government schemes announced. 

What she needs is an opportunity, an opportunity to show what she truly is and what she deserves. What she expects from us is to recognize her ‘individuality’ and not only limit it to her family. What she expects, is to not let her vision of achievement succumb to the obtuse thinking of our society.

Thus I just want to urge people that if we can't fight for them, if we can't raise our voices for them, at least we can try to be much more sensitized towards their living circumstances and not just undermine it as another ballyhoo because this is real McCoy. My reason for sharing the story at the start was just a step towards making each one of us realize that they need our help which calls for immediate action. Yes, it is a long journey because it does take time to change a system that has prevailed from the very start but as a catalyst for their liberty, we have to transform this society by eliminating social perils like gender bias orthodox beliefs of people. We have come this far and I believe that if we still hold onto this cause, we will get what we have been striving for and that's let these girls and women do something for themselves and have them stand on their feet so that they don't have to feel as if they are a burden on anyone or they don't have the potential to fend for themselves. Therefore any kind of support from our side is a must.

And yet if you still think that you are tired of reading or witnessing stories about inequality against these women and girls every other day, just imagine having to live them!

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