“You tucked me in, turned out the lights,
Kept me safe and sound at night
Little girls depend on things like that” — Miley Cyrus
Come this Wednesday, my sister would have completed her one-month notice at her workplace. She works with an NGO for a project that encourages primary education for girls in Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)-run schools. And it was through her that I had the opportunity of being a volunteer for a day with that NGO. Along with my sister and few of her colleagues, I went to an MCD school in a remote area near Rohini in Delhi.
The bell had already rung for recess when we reached. I watched as a group of little girls encircled my sister—their favorite “didi”—and giggled as my sister hugged each one of them. I could not wait to be part of that pretty picture. When I smiled at the girls and embraced their blushing faces, one of them reached for my cheeks with her tiny hands, returning the embrace. Her tiny, beautiful, dusty hands warmed up my heart.
Her gesture made me feel like I had walked through a door and entered her house. That beautiful, tiny thing; that little girl was Priya. And boy, was she lovable. I fell in love with her in an instant.
When that moment passed and my day progressed, I found myself listening to girls less than half my age responding to my questions with answers that left me with no more questions to ask.
Who all are there in your family? I asked one of the girls.
Me,my mother, and three brothers. Actually two. One died and so did my father, she said in such a tone that it seemed like she was used to this question and at ease with her answer.
I ask—what do you do at home?—thinking a possible answer would be—I play with my siblings or watch TV. She shoots back with— I do the dishes and sweep the floor.
Of course, I did know that little girls like these existed. However, even though one can be moved by the knowledge such as this, there is nothing like experiencing it first hand — sitting next to them, breathing their rustic scent, and putting your hand on their shoulder to make them feel that you care even if it is for a single day as a volunteer. So I ask myself, what should I feel for these girls? Should I pity them because one of them does not have a father, or because the other one does dishes every night and sweeps the floor every morning before realizing that she is running late for school?
These are girls not more than eight-years-old. It is not that sweeping floors is bad; not that kids learning how to keep their house clean is bad. But kids with no hobbies; kids who cannot tell doing dishes from a hobby — that is bad.
I remember my sister once told me that she had asked a girl in the fifth grade to recite a poem she knew. It turned out that the only poem she knew was “Twinkle twinkle little star.” I thought it was cute until I realized that “Twinkle twinkle little star” is not a fifth grade poem. It is a nursery rhyme you learn in kindergarten. Sad.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a CBI officer. When the chapter on Universe interested me in my Physics class in the seventh grade, I wanted to be an astronomer. What I wanted to be does not matter. What matters is that I imagined myself as something or somebody. Imagination is a major part and a normal part of most people’s childhood. Kids imagine places, people. And they not only imagine people but make imaginary friends. These kids that I met, they did not have an imagination.
However, being a teacher is what most of them answered in chorus when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up. Why a teacher, I thought? I guess because a teacher is the one who looks different, who stands out from the crowd; somebody who seems to teach them something.
Even as they talked about becoming a teacher, it is expected that a significant number of them will drop out as they enter their teenage years. A major reason for this is them attaining puberty. But why, of all reasons, would attaining puberty affect a girl’s chances of getting education? The reasons, among many, are: no use of modern-day sanitized products, a conservative family background, and the absence of separate washrooms for girls and boys in most schools. I could not help but compare their school life with mine. We had three spacious washrooms for girls on each floor of my school building and a nurse’s room, which seems like glory to me now.
Even as there is talk of equality of the “Third Sex,” of which setting up of separate washrooms for them in public institutions and places is a major part, little girls in these schools drop out for a reason as inconceivable as absence of separate washrooms. Little girls need privacy. They have the right to privacy of their bodies; right to have a private time to understand their bodies; to know that they are growing up and yet, to know that they do not need to give up on who they are presently—little girls.
Therefore, whenever we work for the betterment of girls, let us not refer to them as would-be mothers. Motherhood is a biological condition. Girls should not be valued on the possibility of them becoming mothers one day. Because if a girl can not or will not become a mother, for whatever reason, that does not mean she should be valued any less. Being a mother is not a quality, but being a good mother is. Motherhood is not the be-all and end-all of being a girl.
Let us not relate these little girls with femininity because that is what those who work against these girls do. The conservative minds “reason” that schooling or education is not a practical choice for a girl. They reason, why educate a girl who will soon attain puberty and be married off into another family.
Let them be who they are. Let them be little girls. Let us not talk about what these girls will become someday or are capable of becoming. Let us not talk about the future. Let us forget about—If she is educated, she will send her daughter to school. Sure, she will. But for a moment, let us screw the future and focus on the little girl’s need and what they are dependent on. Because little girls cannot survive on their own.
Little girls depend on a fair chance at education; they depend on cleaner and separate washrooms; they depend on a good teacher that cultivates an imagination in them; they depend on parents that love them unconditionally. Little girls depend on safe roads, a safe home, and a safe neighborhood. They depend on someone to tie their pigtails, a friend to play with during playtime, a good hot meal, a good night’s sleep, and a giggle every now and then.
Little girls depend on things like that.