The human mind assimilates facts very quickly and tends to form an opinion based on it. Most of us tend to look for opportunities to reaffirm these opinions of ours. Seldom do we go around looking for instances to reshape the ideas and assumption that our minds have to offer.
Today, I went on such a journey. The fact that people still make no effort to educate their kids has always been a source of great confusion for me. How any parent, in today’s world can still not send their kids to school is a question that has always nagged me. In my quest of questioning and reforming my ‘single story’ of lack of education among our poor, I travelled to a village nearby Udaipur in Rajasthan, called Nimaj Khera.
It looked nothing like the villages I’ve been to in my home state of West Bengal. There weren’t any agricultural fields or ‘kuchha’ roads. Most of the houses were ‘pakka’ and well structured. While there were open drains, it seemed like a locality housing well-off people. It was only once I walked quite a distance uphill that I came across a cluster of crumbling, put-together brick structures. There, I met Anjali, a smiling, talkative girl who was in the sixth standard. She was the eldest among her siblings, with a younger sister and brother. Coming from a family of barely literate parents, she dreams of completing her education. “But finances are a problem for us” her mother complains. “Because of our caste, she doesn’t get the books that the school is supposed to give her for free. We have to pay for them. I don’t know how long we can continue her education like this. We have to send our boy to school too.” I learn that her brother goes to a private school as the government school is not as good. Her parents find no problem in stopping their daughter from going to school in order to send their son to a more expensive one. The story is repeated in other homes of the relatively poor I visit in the area. One mother questions that when her daughter is ultimately going to get married only, what is the point of stressing and spending so much on her education.
The scenario is markedly different when I travel to Puli, an urban slum in Udaipur. Kids there go to school and families send their daughters alongside their sons to study. I get to know Chabi, a mother of two school-going daughters. “I work as a labourer on construction sites. My parents never sent me to school. I don’t want my daughters to have the same life. I’ll let them study as long as they want to.” While many financially constrained families’ womenfolk go out to work, they all still send their kids to school. Most of them say they want their kids to study and make a better life for themselves.
What is interesting here is the fact that Puli and Nimaj Khera are barely three to four kilometres away from each other. While it’s heartening to see some parents putting in so much effort to send their kids to school, at the same time barely four kilometres away, another mother thinks that educating her daughter is a sheer wastage of money. I don’t know whether I feel validated after today’s experience. I do know that I am barely beginning to comprehend the diversity of our social fabric.