When we say nothing at all.

I admit that my sole connection to the plights of the impoverished multitude is through my genial domestic help, whom I call Boudi (sister-in-law) and who in turn calls me Didi (elder sister). In the middle of her morning rush washing, cleaning and doing other household chores, dashing between my house and my neighbours’, she often catches a break to talk to me, inquiring about something that I may be doing, or relating to me some incident of her limited life that she found amusing. Often, I act too offhand, particularly, if I am busy, and after a probe or two, she abandons her attempt at a conversation and withdraws after finishing her task.

Boudi is usually very cheery and even the occasional squabbles with her husband fail to dampen her spirits. So, last month, when I saw her face wrought with the wrinkles of worry and anguish, I suspected something very serious. I did the probing, contrary to convention, and learnt that Boudi’s youngest sister, who had been married off a year back and had just had a baby girl, was being brutally tortured by her in-laws, at their place in a remote village in the district of Bastar in Odisha. The sister in question had managed to send a distress call, through the second-hand cell phone Boudi had given her the last time she visited, and had pleaded rescue. This was cause enough to trouble Boudi, but she was more distraught with grief at the indifference of her parents, who on being informed of their daughter’s plight, had simply turned a deaf ear.

My usually jovial and bubbly domestic help blurted out her grudge at her parents, on my sympathizing. “I told them, ‘you should have killed us sisters, all four of us, the moment we were born. You gave us birth; nothing else. Why give us birth, when you can’t give us lives?’ They just birthed us you know, nothing more, nothing more, and now they have forsaken us all”, Boudi lamented. I could only imagine the extent of her sorrow. Being an only child, I have been programmed to feel slighted if my parents so much as even praise some talent on the never ending reality shows on television. And Boudi had three sisters and two brothers and a very indifferent set of parents.

Idealism, I have often been told, is a bourgeois luxury. Faced with the real picture, the idylls of idealism fly. Comfortable at my desk, therefore, I remember having suggested Boudi various impracticable mitigating measures, including lodging a complaint with the local Mahila  Samity and an F.I.R. with the Bastar Police, in keeping with my presumptuous nature. That was all I could do. Fume, vocalize and condemn; from the comfort of my home.

Today, almost a fortnight after I learnt of this tragedy, I don’t know why, Boudi’s sister and her misery came to my mind. I asked Boudi what had happened of her sister, apprehensive of being told something terrible. Boudi took twenty minutes to fill me in.

Her father hadn’t budged on learning of her daughter’s misfortune. However, her aunt and her mother had braved the odds of train and cart travel and had brought back her sister and the kid, who, at the time of the rescue, had gone starved for four days in a row. Oddly enough, the husband of the woman in question, who had been away working in Hyderabad and had come up at the same time, had left his family with his wife and kid, not out of conjugal loyalty, but for fear of being tortured and beaten by his own parents and brothers, if he was left alone with them (makes you wonder what kind of monsters are these people). The rescued couple had been rehabilitated in Boudi’s father’s house and, now begins the whole point of my writing this article.

It so happens, Boudi’s father had been reluctant to allow his daughter to come and live with him once again, especially when he had married her off for good, financial concerns being foremost in his mind. In a very noble gesture, Boudi and her other sisters and brothers had relinquished their claims on what little property they would inherit on their father’s demise to allow their youngest unfortunate sister to survive. My domestic help looked almost like a martyred saint when she confided to me, “I can work houses, but she can’t, she’s got a nursling. I am not saying she shouldn’t work, but not right now, she’s too weak you know. My father can turn a blind eye but how can we leave our sister to her fate?”.

And then she said something quite uncharacteristic of people of the lower income strata in India, something essentially enlightened. “I will work harder if necessary but I’ll give my daughter the education she deserves, so that she can choose her own fate”.

To you, reader, and to me, this is nothing new. This has been our grandparent’s principle perhaps. But to the malnourished multitude of India living below the poverty line, this resolution marks the height of enlightenment. Because, for people like my illiterate Boudi, children are extra pairs of earning hands, the more the better, and education is essentially an impediment to unscrupulous earning.

I lauded her resolve and encouraged her with information about the various government and non-government schemes initiated to aid the education of female children in our country [1,2,3]. My domestic help has just one daughter, a cause of great displeasure for her in-laws, another remarkable feat in my opinion. As she stood attentively listening to me going on and on about the various advantages the India government is reserving for single girl child, her health and education, I noticed a wistful look on Boudi’s face. After I had stopped, she stood rooted for a few more seconds, obviously jeopardizing her balanced schedule, before leaving me with a profoundly insightful comment. “Breeding by the dozen doesn’t make you a parent, caring for just one does”.

It has taken my domestic help personal losses and terrors to arrive at such a deep understanding. The lesson she has learned is now permanent, albeit with a big scar. The mistakes of her father and forefathers, of which she and her sisters are a victim, have left her all the way wiser and she will not make the same mistakes with the life of her daughter. As she breaks her back toiling day in and day out to provide her daughter a life, she will perhaps secretly sigh at all her own miseries, wishing perhaps, in the past, somebody had done the same for her. Her newfound insight will light the life of her daughter, but she is to stay in the shadows, wishing just wishing, her parents had been more than just begetters.

This is the story of just one Boudi. But there are millions more of them out there, who perhaps, unlike my domestic help, are yet to find the light. I only wish they find it with less suffering. Our country, at a moment has two different nations co-existing within the same coordinates. One is the educated and enlightened India that has the power to question the government’s policies and the other is the regressed, malnourished, unlettered India whose fate rests on the proper execution of the power vested in the educated section.

I believe it is the duty of the educated India to use its powers, every electoral year, to demand policies that compel the regressed nation to come out of the darkness, to aspire, to evolve. Policies that transform the cheaply bought ‘vote-banks’ into the human beings God intended them to be, with powers of their own, to question, to reason and to understand. And, policies that turn begetters into parents. Policies like those for birth control, poverty eradication, women empowerment, prompt judicial action, better medical aid. We all know them by heart. Its time we start demanding their effective implementation.

Let the educated India be the Prometheus to the steadily regressing India.

Manjishtha

03.07.13

Image

External links:

Here are the various scholarships that India government and some Non-Government Organizations give for the education of girl children.

1. http://www.ugc.ac.in/sgc/default.aspx

2. http://www.fairandlovely.in/falfoundation/scholarship.html

3. http://www.davo.in/download_pdf/schulze_scholarship.pdf (for visually impaired women)

Besides, scholarships at school level are also given by DST, INSPIRE Programme, to both boys and girls.

http://www.inspire-dst.gov.in/index.html

Image courtesy:

http://www.vanderbilt.edu/

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4 comments

  1. pratishtha · · Reply

    very evocative and inspiring piece………….a change at the root is more enduring………

    1. Thanks for your appreciation 🙂

  2. I appreciate very much the thought provoking piece of writing.
    M.K.B

    1. Thank you very much.

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