Taking up the gauntlet for sister's education

Written by: Anita Nair
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Barmer, Jan 6 (ANI): Growing up in Barmer district in Rajasthan Hajariram is just another kid on the block, the son of Togaram and Kamladevi he was sincere student of class X in the local school. His world really seemed far away from raging social issues of domestic violence or for that matter the fundamental attitude of discrimination against the girl child.

The fact is that for Hajariram as for several other youth in this region, the problem was closer than they thought or were conditioned to believe. This is the chord that Vikalp Sansthan, an NGO working in the region in association with Oxfam sought to touch through several inter-linked programmes in a campaign against " domestic violence targeting women and female feticide".

The programmes work to not only raise awareness but actually bring about change. Not change from the top, in terms of a policy diktat or a scheme, which runs it course without touching lives but a deeper transformation of societal attitudes and norms. This is the journey then of Hajariram as he became part of this transformation.

When young Hajariram became involved in local youth groups and began attending their meetings, he was a bit withdrawn. Gradually he opened up and began to share his own ideas on what he saw around him, his observations of family, of society.

One day he declared within the group that he has seen his uncle physically abuse his aunty, a problem which never talked about, not even acknowledged. The realisation emboldened him to bring up the matter with his father. His father's reaction was typical. Hajariram was brushed aside, told brusquely not to interfere with his uncle's affairs and rather concentrate on his studies.

What was redeeming was his aunty's reaction. In Hajariram she found a support, someone who cared and stood up for her in her obvious suffering. In his own way, Hajariram had contributed to social change. True he had been dismissed but he had got an insight into social dynamics and what needs to change. This was to prepare him for a longer battle ahead.

The meetings opened up his mind to the problem of domestic violence, an understanding of laws for protection of women. Hajariram began to make connections between the attitudes of discrimination towards girl children, which he saw all around, and this uglier manifestation of violence against women.

He began with taking a small step and started helping his younger sister Usha in her domestic chores, which as a practice across Rajasthan and across vast rural regions in our country falls squarely on the shoulders of girls in the family. But he did not stop at that and motivated his sister to join the 'Kishori Samuh', a formation of young girls also under the aegis of Vikalp. .

Initially the parents and other family members did not like the idea and protested but Hajariram was adamant. He talked to each member of the family separately and convinced them that he was not doing anything against the family. Then came the good news that his sister had passed the High School Certificate Examination (Class X Board) with first division marks. Hajariram was thrilled but little did he suspect the forces he would come up against. His parents intent on finding a groom for Usha stopped her from studying further.

This upset Hajariram greatly. He knew about his kid sister's dream of becoming a doctor. Not one to succumb to social pressures, he urged all the family members to assemble and discuss Usha's future. He proposed that Usha be allowed to continue her education and postpone her marriage for a couple of years.

This was akin to letting out a cat amongst pigeons! In fact he drove the message in harder and came up with the suggestion that both Usha and he could share the room in Barmer, where he was currently staying for his studies so that she could pursue her studies as well! As his father got more and more angry, Hajariram dug in his heels.

He went on to discuss the issue with Head Master of Barmer school and urged the school authorities to convince his parents to allow Usha to study. His ultimate argument was that if getting education was important for his own development, the same holds true for his sister also!. No amount of posturing and recounting of social norms would make him relent or recant his position.

The face-off took a toll on the sister though. Dejected over the continuing tension at home, Usha herself urged her brother not to press for her education which other family members were vehemently opposed to. This made Hajariram even more determined and he came out with a categorical announcement, which sent shock waves within the family. He said that if his sister was not allowed to study further, he too would stop!

A young boy, he had taken on the world, the might of regressive social norms on his tender shoulders. It was too much for him too and he began to absent himself from group meetings. This led to the group of local youth to gather around him and join forces to solve a problem that clearly went beyond the 'personal. They approached the local Sarpanch, Dewaram and had a joint session with the sarpanch, the local group and Hajariram's parents.

It worked as a 'catalyst' triggering off a sea-change in attitudes which surely the dogged efforts of Hajariram must have prepared the ground for. The parents ultimately saw reason and were convinced about the innate sense of it all. This was then a moment of triumph when both Hajariram and Usha were to told to continue their studies in a school in Barmer!

In Khara village where not a single girl had ever gone to district headquarters (Barmer) to study further what happened was then nothing short of a miracle. It began with a belief within this young boy Hajariram that for families and indeed society to prosper, boys and girls must have equal opportunities.

Usha, according to Charkha development news service, will become a shining example for other girls in the region aspiring to study and grow beyond the constraints imposed by society. In this surely it will never be forgotten that it was one brother's deep concern for his sister and struggle for her progress against all odds that made it happen. By Usha Chowdhary (ANI)

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