Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RIP Women's Literacy

Literacy education has died a gradual death in the Kheda. The only real student of ours is Bhuri Bai, still dedicated to the core. Others like Paanchi and Meera stopped attending a while back, even when classes were held at the NREGA work site. Apathy toward education has infected the once enthusiastic women.

Surely, they must see some value in learning, for they repeatedly ask us to teach their daughters and sons. But when push comes to shove the grown-ups prefer resting after a day of manual labour. We've tried our best to accomodate them, but I sense a lack of motivation. It's not important to them, and we are unable to persuade them otherwise. Either no one wants to learn anymore or they refuse to go to Bhuri Bai's house.

Meanwhile, Shantaji's sewing classes are progressing along nicely. Let's put aside the fact that save for Narani and Jasodha the other five students are Chunnilal's daughters-in-law. All five can only attend classes if held in their home. It just so happens that we've ended up catering to one of the more powerful families in the Kheda. I hardly see Rekha and Jaana anymore and miss their giddy teenage giggles. Inter-family conflicts due to voting for different candidates prevents them and other ladies from attending the classes.For the better portion of the two hour classes it's the students who sew now, Shantaji playing a supervisory role.

The Kishore Balika classes are also shaping up well under the guidance of the able Shantaji. The highlight of my day are her humorous side-stores (At a carnival a lizard fell into a cauldron of pudding, poisoning all eaters. Lesson learned: one's kitchen should be well lit) or her impromptu promise ceremonies where she forces a girl to swear she wont eat Miraj - a flavored tobacco product. Today was "Learn How To Properly Take a Bath" Day. The thirteen girls marched to the borewell, scrubbing themselves clean as Shantaji poured pitcher-fulls of water over their lathered heads. After much hair-oiling, vigorous combing, and tight braiding the posse headed back, their faces and hair gleaming from copious amounts of mustard oil.

It's so much easier to work with kids, they're up for anything. Adults have their politics, their cliques, their obstinate likes and dislikes. And this is in a same-caste community, the families all related to one another. Next time I read about a 20 women self-help group I'll understand the painstaking amount of time and effort it must have taken to create such unity. Overcoming family grudges is no easy task.

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