I have borrowed the title of this post from an article that appeared recently in the New York Times: What's So Scary about Smart Girls
and chose to illustrate it with a picture of the 1936-1937 batch of girls from Benares Hindu University. One of them is my mother who fought every odd possible to accede to education at a time when girls rarely went to school. She managed not only to finish school but to go to BHU as a resident and then go on to get a PHD. She was able to do that because she had to formidable allies: her paternal grandmother and her mother and browbeat her father. That was 80 years ago.
Things have not changed as girl's education is still not fully accepted. So it makes you wonder what is it that makes people - parents, religious authorities, political entities - scared of educated women. Let me quote some parts of the article I mentioned above which are quote pertinent. The author says: Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no
force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to
extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books
. The article suggests that educating girls can change demography and quotes a study that found that for each additional year of primary school, a girl has 0.26
fewer children. So if we want to reduce the youth bulge a decade from
now, educate girls today
. The article
has interesting findings and goes on to say educating girls doubles the formal labor force. It boosts the economy, raising living standards and promoting a virtuous cycle of development. Asia’s economic boom was built by educating girls and moving them from the villages to far more productive work in the cities
However what really caught my attention was when he states that to fight militancy, we invest overwhelmingly in the military toolbox but not so much in the education
toolbox that has a far better record at defeating militancy
. This is something I have been repeating for the past decade and a half over and over again. Education and education alone can transform society.
I have been on the receiving end many times. I must confess that the first time I was thrown out of a park by a posse of little politicos simply because I was teaching a bunch of slum kids under a tree, I was dumbfounded. How could teaching children be a danger to anyone. But as time went on I realised how dangerous it could be to those who wanted society to remain static as it suited everyone's dubious agendas. As time went I understood why the pass percentage was kept at an abysmal 33% as it would ensure that the child was unable to accede to higher education, why State run schools are poorly run and cannot meet the growing demands, why the Right To Education has absurd flaws. Education can rock their boat forever.
I was recently informed that one of our funding partners would be curtailing the size of their donation. The reason was that India was no longer Incredible and thus westerners were shunning it. I guess we are talking of rapes and women safety. I felt terribly sad as it should have been the other way round as helping those who are trying to educate underprivileged children would ensure a safer India. But this is no quick fix solution. It is a long haul but the openly way we can see the change we want provided our patriarchal society, our wily politicians, our corrupt officials allow this to happen.