19th Sep, 2017
It was an emotional moment for everyone gathered at the Training Centre near Koppal, when Roopa, an RMAG from Alawandi, burst into tears while delivering a speech as part of the parents’ meetup organized by Sphoorthi. Her voice wavered half way through the speech where she was eloquent about the metamorphosis that she and the fellow RMAGs were going through after being a part of the Sphoorthi project. She spoke about her dreams of studying further and if necessary, travelling to another town and staying in a hostel. Her father’s lack of acknowledgement of her dreams was at the center of her silent yet emotional strife. It was a sunny day in Koppal with an occasional cloud or two appearing from nowhere and dissolving under the sun as if to express solidarity with the state of mind of the many RMAGs who needed to garner support from their parents in allowing them to move forward in life in a manner they envisioned.
Around thirty to thirty-five RMAGs had gathered at the technical training center along with their parents. This meeting was an attempt to bring together the parents and the RMAGs and enlighten the parents on the importance of their involvement in the overall development of their children, especially the girls. It is noteworthy here that a father’s role in the upbringing of his children has been misinterpreted through generations. Being a patriarchal society, there is a long way to go until the women are kept at the helm of affairs of the society, its progress and well-being. The women have been silently waging a war against this disparity, but to no avail.
While those living in the cities and big towns have been fortunate to grab opportunities and come to the forefront, there are scores of women sweltering in the torrid environs of remote villages, where even mere existence is considered a boon. A father’s role in the upbringing of a girl child is obscure. There is a lot of cultural bias in this regard and it has always been the mother who is entrusted with the responsibility of bringing up the children, while the father would excuse himself in the pretext of being the bread winner. This belies the popular notion that women are incapable of handling the affairs of the house and are suitable to only bear children and serve the family with food. The suppression is only an effect of the patriarchal culture prevalent in our society. There is no doubt that women play a cardinal role in strengthening the foundation of her family. It is this mindset of the society that needs to be altered and that’s the ultimate goal of the Sphoorthi Project.
The parents had gathered from nearby villages after much persuasion and effort. The families were chosen on the basis of their level of involvement and participation in the project-related activities of Sphoorthi. Some of the parents had never attended any of the meetings in their respective villages, and if they did, it was primarily the mothers who did. The fathers mostly stood away from the entire show, considering it to be a woman’s affair and could not stitch in their role in any of the activities.
The event started with a welcome address by the Spoorthi District Coordinator, followed by a prayer song by a couple of RMAGs. Vidya, hosted the event and Shambhavi delivered the welcome speech on behalf of the RMAGs. After this eventful start, the parents were welcomed and asked to sit in pairs forming a circle. This was also an effort to cull the caste and religious divides among the villagers, where they were asked to sit in no particular pattern or choice. Although people chose to sit beside the same community, the divide was not too obvious, which, in itself was heartening to note.
The second activity was the most interesting of all, where the couples had to introduce each other to the rest of the audience, in the following manner: the name of the partner, his/her favorite food and what’s special about him/her. Everyone had a hearty laugh seeing the reluctance of the women to call out or introduce their better halves to the audience. In a tradition where calling out to the husband itself was considered a sin, introducing one’s husband by his name and talking about his favorite food and nature was a real ordeal. The women were encouraged to do so by the RMAGs and a few forward families. This helped in breaking the ice between the couples and the audience. Most of the introductions went on with the husband being ignorant of the wife’s choices. The wife, on the other hand was spot about his choices.
A couple of fathers blatantly refused to introduce their partners and went to the extent of boycotting the event when they were forced to speak up. Barring a few such instances, the room bloomed with countless happy faces along with the din of the cheering RMAGs. After the round of introductions and ice-breaking, the parents were given a chance to speak.
The change in the attitude of the women owing to the participation of their girls in the Sphoorthi activities was evident from the fact that they did not fear when it came to contradicting the views of their husbands. One of the fathers proudly displayed his disapproval of allowing his daughter to study further and said that women will eventually have to take care of the family and hence it is a sheer waste of time and money educating them. The mother intervened and objected to this view. For this, the crowd cheered and lauded the mother for the fact that she did not fear the consequences of speaking against her husband before such a big audience, and stood by her daughter’s wishes. She took a vow that come what may, she will stand by her daughter and will go to any extent in preventing her from getting married early. She said that she hopes for a better life for her daughter, who had scored 90% marks in 9th grade. The husband dropped his head in embarrassment and shame and did not utter a word after this.
There was another parent who spoke about his attempt in preventing the mass marriage of minor girls. He had persuaded the parents of all the to-be-married girls in sending them to school. A lot of parents spoke about the visible changes in the attitude of the girls and the community at large, while a few of them blamed their impoverished lives for not being able to send the girls to study. Such parents were informed that the Government has come up with several schemes to extend financial aid and all kinds of assistance to be able to send the children to school.
It was now the turn of the RMAGs to speak about the Sphoorthi journey and the positive change that they had been experiencing being a part of this journey. One after the other, the RMAGs waited for their turns to speak up and express their anguish or joy over their parents’ role in enabling the RMAGs to lead by example. A few of them thanked their parents for being supportive and understanding, while a few made use of this arena to seek support from the audience that had gathered, to persuade the fathers in allowing them to study further.
This interactive session was followed by outdoor games. One was a musical chair game and the other, a balloon race. The musical chair was a feast to the eyes with parents behaving like children and grabbing the chairs and pushing the other contestants and even knocking them down. All their inhibitions were seen fading out and the earlier reserved fathers themselves were cheering their partners. A positiv
e sight again to know how they appreciated their partners, even if it was involuntarily. Even the most laid back men in the group were willing to play the musical chair game and did not spare any effort in becoming a child again. The passersby were equally thrilled seeing the amount of fun the adults were having.
The balloon race was another game that was thoroughly enjoyed. The couples had to hold a balloon between them with the support of their tummies and head towards the finishing point in a straight line. A few of the balloons burst, even before the race could begin. That did not deter the couples from staying away from the race. They waited patiently until a fresh balloon was provided. This was another symbolic game where the balloons represented the RMAGs and the message that was sent out was that without the support and encouragement of both the parents, it is difficult for the girls to excel in life. There were no prizes given away, but the happiness that prevailed in the atmosphere was priceless. After a strenuous round of interaction and games, the participants were provided with a sumptuous meal. The day ended with the parents seeming closer to each other, as well as their children.
There is no doubt that this exposure would have left a lasting impact on the psyche of the parents and the children alike. It is yet another milestone for Sphoorthi that believes that the parents are an integral part of achieving the objectives of the project. Sphoorthi aims at creating a supportive environment for the girls by involving the parents at every step thereby enabling them to transition smoothly into better individuals with a broader insight into every aspect of life.
The couples’ meeting was not only successful in bridging the communication gap between the couples themselves, but also facilitated a better understanding between the RMAGs and their parents. This activity was also successful in showcasing the quantum of change the girls have been undergoing, reinforcing the fact that girls are capable of achieving what they dream of and are equally worthy of leading a better life.
By Sheena Lakshmi