Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many girl students in Karnataka are dropping out of degree programmes after being persuaded by their families to get married. In many cases, efforts by lecturers to convince parents to postpone the wedding till after they complete the courses have failed.
The last date to complete college admissions without fine was September 15, and many colleges are reporting that 10% to 20% of the girls did not turn up. “About 150 students are yet to take admission for the second and final year in the current academic year at our college,” said Mahendra Kumar, principal of Government First Grade Arts College in Hassan. While every year there are some students who get married and give up studies, this year the numbers are markedly higher, he said.
T.M. Manjunath, president of Karnataka Government College Teachers’ Association, said this was the trend across the State as many parents were stretched thin financially amid the pandemic. “In such a situation, very often boys get preference over girls in continuing education,” he said. An additional factor that has spurred parents to hold weddings during this period is cost. Wedding expenses are much lower during the pandemic given the restrictions on gatherings, said Dinesh K.S., assistant professor at Holenarsipur.
With colleges closed and classes being held online, there is little chance for lecturers directly contacting their students. “Some of our students got married during the lockdown. We are trying to convince them not to discontinue studies,” said H.K. Lalitha Devi, principal of Government First Grade College for Women at Holenarsipur.
Two of her final-year students did not appear for examinations. When the teachers contacted the students’ parents, they were told that their husbands did not want them to complete their studies. “They have studied for three full years. I hope they come back to clear the exams,” she said. Lecturers still remain hopeful of at least some of the girls coming back, as there is time till the end of the month to get enrolled with fine.
‘Need govt. action’
Amaresh Kadagada, State president of the Students’ Federation of India, said there was a need for the State government to intervene and ensure that girls do not drop out, especially in backward regions where child marriage is rampant. In 2018, Karnataka’s Gross Enrolment Ratio was 26.5%, which was the lowest among the southern States. The ratio measures how many students in the 18-24 age bracket are enrolled for higher education programmes — undergraduate, postgraduate, and research studies — and is expressed as a percentage of the population.
Parents have defended their decision citing various reasons. The father of a student, who did not wish to be named, said, “There were no classes. Friends and relatives suggested we might as well hold her marriage, since we had already found a boy from among our relatives. We arranged the marriage with minimum expenses.” Asked if his daughter would complete her education, he said her husband and in-laws would take that call.
(With inputs from Tanu Kulkarni in Bengaluru)