• Harshada Desai

What do young Indian girls want

Noida — I was sitting on a patch of grass at NVTI (National Vocational Training Institute) eavesdropping into conversations of 20-year-old girls, who spoke about domestic chores their mother’s make them do, shopping, homework and future dreams.

Their lives and their conversations are evidence that the trajectory is changing. Mothers seem to be playing vital roles in realizing that to survive they must educate their girls, step outside the house and maybe live alone and ‘stand on their own two feet’.

But what does independence mean to these young girls?

Sejal, a young girl in her 20s, never thought she would get the chance to be independent. After finishing her high school her father was determined to get married. ‘You are a girl, not a boy!’ was the reply to her request. If a prospective boy was to approach the usual reply was ‘Yes she is studying now but going forward she does not want to get a job, nor should she study further….there is no need’.

Sejal’s mother and aunty, however, were of a different opinion. She wanted her child to study, progress and be independent. Together they managed to convince Sejal’s father to let her study further at an all girls ITI where she would earn employability skills so that she could get a job.

Sejal is currently studying Stenography and hopes to get employed. “I want to be self-dependent, she says as she hesitates to pronounce dependent in English. She believes that life after marriage is not always easy and in those troubling times, it is important for a woman to be self-reliant, which she can be only if she has a job.

Himanshi, a daughter of a single mother from Uttar Pradesh is determined to fight against all odds to educate her daughter.

‘I am here because of her and if I am studying it is also because of her’

Himanshi is a dreamy young girl who is always thinking about becoming a Fashion Designer. A course she actually wanted to study but was not able to get admission in. Currently, she is studying Computer Aided Embroidery which she claims is better for her as the course is teaching her useful skills such as using computer-aided machines. Her full proof plan to ‘standing on own two feet’ is: to get a one-year work experience and then open her own boutique! Her dreamy spirit is easy to get lost into.

For Shalini, independence is about proving her father wrong! A few years back Shalini’s older sister ran away from home and got married without the parents’ knowledge. The upset father believes that Shalini’s sister’s audacity to run away from home came from the freedom and education she got from going to school. Now he is convinced that if Shalini is given the same freedom to education and even a job! it would definitely be risking ‘ghar ki issat’.

Shalini is amused by her father’s misconception but at the same time tries to empathise with him. ‘It isn’t his fault you know…’ she says. As soon as she finishes her COPA training (Computer Operations and Programming Assistant) she wishes to get a government job and make a name for herself.

‘I want to show my father that I am not like that and that he has given me an opportunity to study so I will do something with my life that he can be proud of’.

For Kajol (name has been changed) financial independence simply means to support her family. Kajol used to be a sickly child which would worry her parents about her future. Despite ill health, she managed to score 70% in high school with maths as her core subject. In 11th grade, she took up Biology as her main subject and again fought with ill health and scored 69.5%.

Kajol has always loved studying. After ITI she would like to study more and has two other dreams. Her first dream is to get a “good” job and support her family alongside her father and brother who have a steady income. Her second dream is to become a teacher and help street kids study.

Before coming to NVTI (National Vocational Training Institute) Sejal, Shalini and Kajol like many others in India have never had to travel far distances by themselves. As Kajol describes ‘I never used to go out alone. I used to go from my house to school, school to my tuition and back home again. Even if I needed to buy stationery I used to send my brother with a list. I was scared that if I stepped out of the house someone in the neighbourhood would say something, or eve-tease or something like that. But slowly as I started going to college all my fears started to fade away’. ‘Now if a boy dares touches me I can slap him’ she says laughing and burying her face in her petite frame.

Some girls like Himanshi have had to travel from Uttar Pradesh without parents and live on campus in a ‘big bad’ area like Noida. Women, like these girls, are starting to get ambitious. They are making use of the job-creating economy and are able to do so with their “new” found independence which is starting to poke and prod traditional societies.

In these three stories and every girl I have met so far, it is evident that the current socio-economic conditions of India are fast changing the lives of women. Fashion designers, teachers, CAD technicians and computer programmers; women in their 20s are living independently. Many are deferring marriage knowing that it is against custom while “standing on their own two feet” by making living and living lives that were; still are and will never be possible for their mothers.

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