Thursday, November 20, 2014

Parents murder Delhi University student: So much for educating girl child

by Lakshmi Chaudhry  Nov 20, 2014 13:08 IST

Bhavna was a 21-year old, studying Sanskrit at Venkateswara College in South Delhi. She fell in love with Abhishek, a young assistant programmer at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, also doing his BA in computer applications. They dreamed of graduating, landing great jobs and getting married. They dreamed the new Indian dream, much as countless young people across this nation.
Except there was this one little catch, as Abhishek explains it to Times of India: "She often told me that her father would never allow her to marry a Punjabi but I used to assure her that we will find a way. We did not want to shock them which was why we had told them about our friendship and she had also conveyed her feelings to her mother. However, they snubbed us saying it was imposible."
For this one indiscretion, Bhavna was allegedly strangled by her middle class parents, Savitri and Jagmohan -- a middle class property dealer, described as a "strict but harmless man" with "strong views about inter-caste marriages and community prestige" by his neighbours.
This is not a khap killing in some remote village. This is middle class Delhi.
Representational image. Reuters image
Representational image. Reuters image
"The dignity of a woman is our collective responsibility. The main issue is the education of the girl child. By doing so, the possibility of empowerment of women will increase," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech.
Yes, we must all educate the girl child. But that begs the bigger question: Who will educate her family?
As Malala's stunning popularity demonstrates, sending girls to school seems like a no-brainer. Education is the ladder of opportunity, more so in patriarchical, developing nations where it offers precious upward mobility within an entrenched hierarchy. But with opportunity comes freedom, or at least, the desire for it. When young girls leave the house to study, learn to navigate the world outside, they become independent, more willing to make their own choices, without deference to the tradition that would have kept them at home.
And therein lies the rub. Parents are willing to educate their daughters, but certainly not emancipate them. As was the case with Deepti Chikara, the 26-year old primary schoolteacher in Outer Delhi who was also strangled by her mother, brother and uncle because she wanted to marry an engineer from another caste.
In our cultural vocabulary, education is reduced to a handy tool of economic advancement. Achha job milega, paisa milega. Maybe even achha var (bridegroom) milega, given that a padhi-likhi wife is a desired commodity on the marriage market these days. But god forbid if 12 years of schooling or a college degree open her mind and the doors to a wider world. We will have no truck with that kind of schooling.
Our version of education doesn't broaden the mind, but sticks to its assigned job, i.e. fatten the wallet. This price of this debased definition is made painfully clear by the likes of this young man who said of the Ashok Vihar honour killings, "We are educated people... this is the right thing to do, society will go for a toss otherwise."
Young journalist Nirupama Pathak's relatives were educated people too. Father worked at a bank, brothers held doctorate degrees, and yet her decision to marry outside her caste evoked immediate consequences. While it remains unclear four years after her death whether she was driven to suicide or killed, what is unmistakeable is her family's outrage at her presumption.
They should have known better, except they didn't. In a letter to his daughter, reports the New York Times, he "acknowledged that such marriages were allowed under India’s Constitution, but argued that the Constitution had existed for only decades while Hindu religious beliefs dated back thousands of years."
It is, of course, these age-old beliefs (pick your religion) that tell a woman to remain in her place, the Constitution or college degree be damned. Contrary to what the Prime Minister desired, many parents send their girls to school praying that the experience will not teach her to think for herself, will not encourage her to question that hallowed tradition, will not lead to that much-touted empowerment. As it turns out, nice middle Delhi parents are not all that different from the Taliban. Sure, we allow our daughters to go to schools. But we most certainly don't want them to learn.

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