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Rural women become harbingers of change

Apr 01, 2009

Many of them had to drop out of school owing to domestic pressures and social taboos. Not only these women from central India have attempted to study further but they also have motivated local girls to pursue their education.

Madhya Pradesh, India: In rural Madhya Pradesh, experiments are afoot to draw girls into the ambit of education. These are spearheaded by gutsy determined local women who have a burning desire to open up new avenues and opportunities for young women

Shabana Bano Rizvi, 29, block panchayat member, Singodi block, Chhindwara district, campaigns intensively to motivate dropouts to sit for the Class X exam.

She says: “Many girls are forced to drop out after middle school due to poverty, absence of a school close by, pressures of housework, and social taboos against mobility of adolescent girls. I myself was forced to leave school in the middle of Class X, when I was married off by my father, against my will. My mother always supported me.

Surprisingly, my husband’s family is supportive, though poor. We have to struggle to work and bring up our daughter. Still, I stood for elections because I wanted to do something for women. I am the first person in my family to stand for election. My father-in-law is my biggest supporter.”

Changing mindsets

“When I won the (reserved) seat, I seized the opportunity to promote girls’ education. I went from home to home, persuading parents to let their girls study,” she says.

“The most difficult part is to motivate parents and families. Once they agree, it is easy to get the girls to study”

Rizvi even raised funds for the fees, in the case of very poor families. Finally, 16 girls appeared for their Class X exams and all have cleared them. Some want to study further (Rizvi is trying to arrange loans to pay for those who cannot afford to do so), and some are keen to begin self-employment ventures, so she is setting up linkages for support schemes for entrepreneurs.

Rizvi was one of the 16 students who cleared the Class X exam in 2008 - 15 years after she left school! Now she is preparing for Class XII. Bubbling with enthusiasm, she says: “My daughter is three years old. She will study as much as she wants to!” Earlier, her husband would accompany her everywhere as she was nervous about travelling alone. “Now I can go by myself. I am confident,” she says.

She values her position of power because she is able to make a difference to the lives of girls and women, in an extremely conservative society.

Meena Mehra, 43, ward panch of Raisalpur gram panchayat, Hoshangabad district, is unlettered. It’s this fact that’s driven her to take up the issue of schooling as a mission. She says, “In our panchayat there is no high school. Children who study up to Class V have nowhere to go after that. Of around 500 students passing Class VIII, about 350 do not study further.”

Mehra lobbied within the panchayat, got resolutions passed on the issue, and sent them to the block and district-level education departments. Meanwhile, the parents’ committee took out a rally to the district education office. 

As she recalls: “The district collector told me to come with any other problems of constituency. ” Finally Mehra managed to get a school sanctioned and is working hard to see it up and running as soon as possible.


Durgabai Tekam, 32, sarpanch of Partapur gram panchayat, Seoni district, also worked hard to get a high school in her area. She says: “Girls dropped out after Class VIII because there was no high school. Boys managed to walk 10 km to the nearest high school, but it was a severe obstacle for girls.”

Tekam managed to complete Class X before her marriage, and, by example, is able to inspire girls and their families about the value of education. Being a dalit, elected to a scheduled caste reserved seat, her campaign is particularly significant in terms of empowerment of dalit girls/women. 

“Boys managed to walk 10 km to the nearest high school, but it was a severe obstacle for girls”

Sheetala Singh, 33, block panchayat member, Rampur Baghelan block, district Satna, is working to motivate dropout girls to sit for the Class X exam as private candidates. She has studied up to Class X, and values her education immensely. She wants to bring this opportunity to the doors of every girl in the region. She says: “The most difficult part is to motivate parents and families. Once they agree, it is easy to get the girls to study. They invariably work hard and do well.” 

Singh adds that a little support for fees goes a long way. Government schemes providing incentives for girl students, including scholarships and bicycles, are extremely helpful in furthering the cause of girls’ education in rural areas.

Rizvi, Mehra, Tekam and Singh were all given small fellowships by an NGO, Aagaz Academy, to help them realise their dream of promoting girls’ education. Indira Pancholi of Aagaz Academy says: “These women have achieved tremendous results in a short time. The reason is their own intense motivation to improve the lives of girls.”  

To know more about this initiative, contact:

Aagaz Academy 
Prayas Campus
Chaurai Road  Amarwara
Chhindwara district
Madhya Pradesh 4802211
Tel: +91 9329274901/ 07167-287255

The author is a Delhi-based writer.

Source : Infochange
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