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“Half hearted education”- 11 March 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Monday, 18 May 2015 16:30

During career counselling sessions of specially girls I often hear a type of logic from parents that goes like this, ‘she must take a good degree which will help her in future in case she runs into difficulty’. ‘Times are bad and she must be able to stand on her feet if required’. This logic has an emotion of apprehension bordering on fear behind it. The word ‘if required’ and ‘in case of difficulty’ are telling of the philosophy behind the girl education. Such parents though appearing wise and mature are actually in confusion. They think they are thinking the best for their child but they are not actually. They think they are modern enough to want to spend on the education of the girl child but it seems to be more out of fear of the uncertain future and not for the love of the child. They love the child as all parents do but only in a restricted way I would say. For love of the child means wanting and desiring the child to grow and bloom and flower to her maximum potential. But I don’t hear that at all from parents.

What I hear is negative logic instead. What I hear is ‘survival- logic’. She should be able to fend for herself and her family if needed. She should not starve and become dependent on someone. To be independent economically and to stand on one’s own feet is a great goal no doubt about it. One of the primary aims of education is to enable you to earn your livelihood. But is that all? Is education all about the building of the capacity to earn your money to feed yourself? Is education to enable you to build skills for the job market? What about the higher goals of education?

Swami Vivekananda said that education is to tap the divinity within. Education aims to expand the intellect and toughen the mind. We seem to have failed to grasp the meaning of education in totality and seem to be stuck on making our children just economic machines to earn money. The entire focus seems to be on money making as if that is the primary and the sole purpose of life. Development of the mind and expansion of the intellect is of utmost importance to build a strong character, something we as guardians do not talk about much. Development of the mind means allowing and encouraging our children to ask questions, any type of questions under the sun. Expansion of the intellect means the freedom to argue, discuss, engage in discourses with adults thus enabling to develop their own opinions even to the extent of being in contradiction with their opinions. But no, how many parents will tolerate their children expressing themselves without fear in a safe atmosphere where he can air his confusions. A child cannot ask questions to his teachers because no one has time to go beyond the curriculum and at home a more or less similar state prevails that no one has time from their routine chores to answer the confusions of their wards. It can be considered an indulgence of sorts for he had better study and get good grades rather than asking ‘weird questions’ for which parents have no answers. As a compensation for their weakness parents might assume a superior attitude of ‘we know it all’, ‘do as I say’ and ‘don’t ask silly questions’. Parents can shout down their children with their false ‘ego’. Let’s not talk about divinity at all for the moment!

Apparently we want education for our children in a restricted way- education not for blooming of the mind but for degrees and eventually jobs, that too only in difficult times. That is where it all begins and ends at. It completes the circle of ignorance.

To make matters worse, many parents in the name of freedom would leave the choice of career to the girl but make it very clear that the choice has to be restricted to the courses that are available in the city only because ‘we cannot allow her to go out and study!. Mothers will say apologetically that they can allow her as she trusts her but her father will not hear about it and that is beyond her control for she has no say in the matter!’ This is another type of restriction. One girl wanted to do a course that was available only in another city but she was coerced to change her choice leaving her frustrated for life.

So empowerment of girls will not take place with just degrees in the name of education. We must allow them to develop their minds as well, think for themselves, choose and build careers, make choices of their life and tread their own path. There can be no full empowerment with half hearted measures.

 

‘Girl Rising India’- 25 February 2015,

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Monday, 18 May 2015 16:29

There may be celebrations as actresses Priyanka Chopra and Freida Pinto became part of the launch of the ‘Girl Rising’s India’ campaign aimed at changing the lives of girls across the country. When a campaign is launched in a star-studded show, it is naturally a time for celebration.

“The time has come when instead of questioning why we should educate girls, we should be asking why not. When we know that educating a girl can change the world, why wait? With Girl Rising, we will change that”, Freida Pinto was quoted as saying.
“I have been a part of the Girl Rising campaign since inception and am honoured to be able to bring this powerful idea to India. If more girls are educated, all of India stands to gain”, Priyanka Chopra was reported to have chimed in.

This sounds so good, so wonderful, so very much pleasant to the parched ears of all those who have spent lifetimes promoting education for girls. It is really music to their ears.
Yet, a serious and complex question also stems from the celebration: Why is it that India still needs such a campaign? Why is it that Indian society has not learnt to educate its girls despite the great efforts by so many social reformers for the past one-hundred-plus years? Why has not the Government pushed girls’ education in a true sense all these six-plus decades? Why is it that our political community has done only lip service to the cause rather than doing the right thing?

This is a serious and comprehensive question. This is an issue that needs serious pondering over by the Indian society, not just through seminars and symposia, but through actual action at all places -- from homes to schools to social institutions to sports to industry to arts academies, to scientific laboratories and finally to the Government and its department of education.
In fact, it is time the Indian society’s leaders declared themselves guilty of not having done the right thing in good enough measure to promote education of girls.
Was it not a moment of shame that the nation had to wait for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to identify one of the causes why girls give up schooling? It was he who first felt that girls left school in good numbers because the schools did not have proper toilet facilities for them.
This was not a new but a shameful revelation to all. But that is of course not the only reason which the Prime Minister may be aware of. There are social reasons for the girl child drop outs from schools. They are pushed back into homes to care for the younger siblings, to cook and clean and do domestic chores to help their mothers who go out for work. The girl child is always at a secondary priority list.
But, most unfortunately, the larger Indian society never realised all this. It never spared much thought to why Indian girls, as a whole, did not stick to school for adequate number of years. And still, nobody felt a sense of collective shame.
And now comes the Girl Rising India campaign, in the sophisticated Americas. And therefore, all the so-called elite Indians will discuss the issue over coffee-cold-with-ice-cream in their cosy drawing rooms sitting by the fireplace! In those discussions, the concern for girls’ education would be sorely missing. The core issue in those discussions would be ‘they’ -- that is everybody else but those few there -- ignored girls’ education all these years.
This hurts deep down. This makes one feel very sad that educating girls is still not an integral part of modern India’s religion of social and societal advancement.
And, now, even as the Prime Minister and many others try to put a collective best foot forward as regards girls’ education, the country as a whole still lumbers along without enthusiasm, as if a chore has to be completed, a formality has to be gone through, a ritual has to be solemnised.
What a shame!

 

“Need for physical empowerment”- 11 February 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 22:39

The media reports keep coming in torrent about rape of women and their torture at home or harassment at workplace or second-grade treatment in the society. No matter the insistence of social thinkers and good-natured do-gooders on making stricter laws, it is more than clear that many of us seem to miss an important point -- about what constitutes a real empowerment of women. For, most of us believe that stricter laws would bring about the desired change. Unfortunately, this is a terribly mistaken impression which we have been carrying in our hearts as a society.

The difficulty in this approach is that we do not even look at a negative possibility that unimplemented laws or good laws in bad law enforcement system make no sense at all in the real world. In spite of the fact that countless laws are heavily loaded in favour of women, real empowerment of the female of species has not take place, thanks to the overall social apathy towards the issue.
This apathy has created a political indifference towards the issues related to women, which in turn has led to the law enforcement agencies like the Police becoming slack about one of their basic duties of affording women full protection at any cost.
This leaves us to no other option than seeking a physically stronger woman. The only answer to the problem of continued regime of rape that the Indian society witnesses all the while is for the women themselves to seek greater physical fitness and mental toughness that would help them stand taller and stronger than the wrong-doers at any place. For this to happen, the women do not have to be hefty or hulky. All they need to achieve is a physical and mental preparedness to face any eventuality in a Kiran-Bedi style courage.
If the families guide its girls to develop stronger muscle and tougher mind right from childhood, the issue of protecting the women would get sorted out to a great extent in a few years. If the girl is subjected to an appropriate exercise regimen the moment she attains the age of five years, then she would start developing strong muscles and tough mind in a couple of years. It would be much better if she is allowed to participate in sports along with boys from early years, then things would be still better. And if the girls are introduced to unarmed self-defence by the age of 10 years, that would be the most desirable thing to happen. And if she is taught how to use a knife in self-defence by the age of 12 years, her real empowerment will take place to give her ability to protect herself from any crime against her.
Of course, such a language would appear raucous to many. Yet, looking at the continued crime against women in the Indian society, I feel strongly that there is no need to seek stricter laws alone. What would make the critical difference will be physically stronger and mentally tougher woman.
Experience has shown that the woman loses her will to fight back when a goon tries to mess up with her. If she does not lose her heart and fights back with all the power at her command, half the crimes against women would be taken care of. And if the society decided to train its girls in physical fitness, mental toughness, and unarmed and armed self defence, then a great stride would be made in the area of empowerment of women in the Indian society.
May this writing not be taken as an incitement to violence. On the contrary, this may be a good prescription to sort out the social malaise of violence against women in any form.
My interpretation of US President Barack Obama’s insistence upon appropriate status to women is that a physically stronger woman is always better for herself and for the society.
This is not a tall order at all. In fact, this is one area in which success rate could be very high in just a few years. If a woman learns to protect herself she does not need to depend on anyone. She would take care of her own safety. This is the real empowerment that young girls of today’s India needs.

“Women on Indian warships”- 28 January 2015.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 22:38

Good news, this time, came from the Indian Navy whose bosses have agreed to employ women on warships to guard the nation’s seas from invaders. The Indian Navy had been having women in its ranks, as was also the case with other Armed Forces, namely the Army and the Air Force. Women worked in battle tanks, too, and also in communications sections of the Air Force. In the Navy, too, they were engaged in important tasks. Yet, when the news came that the naval top brass has agreed to have women on the warships, one felt satisfied that Indian women have entered one more critical sector of national defence.

Of course, Indian women did not need this certificate to prove their prowess. For, they have been working in so many critical sectors that this one is only an addition to already expanding circle of their influence. Yet, the mental picture of women standing on the decks of warships keeping a vigilant eye on the high seas to see if any intruder is acting smart, gladdened the heart all right. May Indian women keep capturing more and more critical areas of endeavour. May their strength grow in leaps and bounds.
Of course, when women were kept away from many critical areas, the concern was for their safety. Or so the men claimed. May there not be any debate on that point, since such debates yield no results. But the most important point which women activists wanted to prove all the time was that women are capable of doing everything which men normally do. True, they may not have similar physical strength as men, but on the endurance scale, the women have often proved better than men on most occasions.
The reason is quite simple: Endurance is not a physical characteristic, but a psychological trait and spiritual dimension of the personality. And in this area, the women have always proved themselves stronger and better than most men. So, when the Indian Navy’s top brass has agreed to have women on the warships, it has only added value to the Navy’s strength and endurance.
As a psychologist, I can assure everybody that endurance is actually a spiritual dimension. When Sir Edmund Hillary launched his project to set up a modern hospital in the Khumjung area in Nepal in the Himalayas, he employed scores of porters to heave hospital equipment across the mountains and valleys. There were women, too, among those porters. Recalls Hillary in one of his articles about how he built the project, “One of the porters was a woman on the wrong side of 50s. She was carrying on her cack an X-Ray machine that weighed about 90 pounds, that is more than the woman’s weight. But she insisted upon carrying that load across one mountain and two gorges. And she was often then first to reach the next stop, much earlier than men porters who carried a lesser load. What mattered most in her case was her spiritual quality”.
This is what I am talking about. This is a universal experience – that women possess a greater spiritual strength to carry through a trying and demanding assignment than do the men.
But this is not, again, an issue of any heated debate. On the contrary, this is only an appreciation that when women would find their positions on the warships, they would only add to the overall value of the preparedness of the ship’s crew. Their sense of commitment to the assignment, discipline, focus will give the crew an added strength.
This is not to suggest that the men lack these. Not at all! They also have these in good measure. Yet, when women get added to the contingent – any contingent – then they make a great value-addition to the team, as is the experience of human society all over the world.
In Indian Navy, too, the women on the warships would make such a positive difference, such a great value-addition to the ship’s crew.
One feels happy that the human society is shedding its apprehensions about women. A long way is yet to be traversed in this regard universally. Yet, each small step is a gain which all of us must celebrate. It demonstrates that we are thinking about the other gender in a proper way by giving it its’ due honour. That is a bigger cause for celebration.

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