It was just the other day one of my former students, now a working journalist in Chandigarh dropped in to say hello. She was back in our University to receive her prize for topping her class in the annual prize distribution function. She had her friend in tow, who was the topper of the next batch. As I talked with both the girls about this and that, through the office window, I could see scores of happy faces walking past, certificates and trophies in hand. All women! Ah…yes, I did see two boys with their souvenirs. Did I mention ours a co-ed institution?
Increasingly, there are more girls in my class than boys, on an average in a 70:30 ratio. There are girls from urban middleclass families, girls from backward regions of Chamba and Sirmour, girls from rural BPL families, girls of parents who haven’t had education beyond middle school. Girls, who have filled their admission forms and submitted their examination fee online, have travelled for the first time from their village to appear in this entrance test, have competed in a state-wide exam, are staying away from their families for the first time. These girls are hungry. They are devouring experiences, they are gulping down life. There’s no complacence.
They are there in every lecture. They are managing the hostel mess. They are turning in assignments in time. They are dusting the books in the library. They are pestering the warden for trimming the curfew hours. They are walking the ramp in cultural events. They are on all the window seats of the University tour bus. They are looking for the hardest internships. They are walking away with all the prizes. They are walking away with the present times.
The long leash that’s trailed these girls to this campus will hold them, but only thus far, not farther. Here’s a typical example. The first year internship is usually “ghar ke pass kisi local paper mein (near their home, in a local paper).” Wait ten months, and the fledgling has fledged, “Sir, kisi bhi achchi jagah internship lagwa do. Ghar walon ko main mana lungi (help me find a good internship placement. I’ll get my parents’ consent).” This girl is just starting out. She’s not resting till she has a job, and that too before the two-year degree comes to a wrap. She’s walking away with the present times, playing skip-rope with the leash.
This fledging has been a long time coming. Their grandmothers couldn’t imagine, their mothers started to, but these girls saw a chance and are making all that built-up imagination precipitate. These girls I see on the campus don’t seem like the once unwanted foetus. They seem wanted, loved, cared for. Isn’t that how and why they are here? Aren’t they outperforming boys? Aren’t there boys whom their parents won’t send too far away for a job? Is it not time that I started looking at my students as students only, not as boy or girl students? The answer is a firm ‘No’. In two-decades I’ve not has a male student drop out because he got married. I’ve had several girl students done that to them. I’ve had girl students pulled out of jobs to pursue a B.Ed. because “teaching is a more suitable profession for females.” I’ve had parents conspiring requesting to make sure their daughter doesn’t get selected in a job interview. I also have girl students, married to their colleagues, now full time homemakers, because “someone has to look after the family.” And of course, the boys’ hostel in the University doesn’t have curfew hours, girl hostels do. The answer is a bigger ‘No’.
I’ve had friends in the media tell me “koi sundar si intern bhejna (send a good looking girl for internship.)” I’ve had senior journalists tell me, “ladkiyon ko naukari dena bahut mushkil hai. Nakhre bahut hain (Employing a girl is a tough decision. They have too many complications).”I’ve also had a girl student fired from her job in a newspaper because “she chose to get pregnant so early in her first job.” As I write this, I realize I’ve had myself base the assignments for our lab productions on boy-girl considerations, assigning “safer” and “less physically demanding” ones to the girls. I remember talking to my colleagues about it being “difficult to take the responsibility of the girl students on an outstation educational tour.” We are all guilt; all alike; even if we contest the degree or frequency of our biases; even if we convince ourselves with posthoc rationalizations of our failings. But I’m sure we’ll all be better. Parents, hostel wardens, colleagues, teachers, husbands, will all be better. Till then I’ll wait for the next prize distribution function. I’ll wait for her to collect all the prizes. I’ll eagerly wait for the next fledging.