Modestly attired Rukmina of Bidarka village is the proud recipient of an award given by the Kishangarh Bas Sub-Divisional Officer on this year’s Republic Day in recognition of her contribution to women’s empowerment by generating awareness about digital services. She studies for a bachelor’s degree and runs an e-governance centre in the nondescript village.
Rukmina, 21, is among the 78 girls from about a dozen villages of Alwar district’s Kishangarh Bas block, forming part of the Mewat region, who have completed their schooling and are going for higher and technical education. A prolonged educational intervention has created this “first batch” of girls in the region which had an abysmal 10% female literacy rate till a decade ago.
Daughter of labourer
Daughter of a landless labourer who worked hard to become the in-charge of employment guarantee works, Rukmina is looked upon as an entrepreneur whose e-Mitra centre provides online facilities to the villagers. “I also use this place as a platform for schoolgirls and give them guidance for studies... As Bidarka’s first girl to pass out XII, it is very satisfying,” Rukmina told The Hindu .
While Rukmina is pursuing the bachelor's course from an open university, three girls from her village have joined Kishangarh P.G. College at the block headquarters and one — Sakunat, daughter of Sarpanch Jamshed Khan — has shifted to Bharatpur to study in the Agriculture College. Since Bidarka has only a government middle school, several girls are staying in hostels in Kishangarh Bas to study till XII.
Shabnam Bano, 23, from the nearby Mirzapur village is the first girl from the block to complete a polytechnic diploma course and join an engineering college. “Though I convinced my parents, I could join the polytechnic college in Alwar after facing strong opposition by villagers who thought that education polluted girls’ minds,” said Shabnam, pursuing B.Tech. in Alwar’s Laxmi Devi Institute of Engineering & Technology.
The educational intervention, which has heralded a new era of empowerment of adolescent girls belonging to the backward Meo Muslim community in the region, was made by the Alwar Mewat Institute of Education and Development (AMIED) through the “Initiative for Better Tomorrow” project in 2016. It was aimed at stopping child marriages by promoting adolescent girls’ education.
AMIED volunteered to conduct bridge courses and run residential and remedial classes for girls to enable them to complete their senior secondary education. The parents were convinced and the local communities in 25 villages were mobilised to send girls to the government-run hostels from villages where only poorly equipped primary and middle schools were functioning.
“The results are very encouraging. A new generation of educated and confident girls has emerged in this region, where people believed till a few years ago that the girls were only meant to do household chores and lend a hand in the fields during sowing and harvest season,” AMIED member-secretary Noor Mohammed said. Girls in the region were earlier married at the age of 12 to 14.
AMIED project coordinator Asha Narang said 10 girls and women had started their e-Mitra centres with the support of Digital Empowerment Foundation and a mobile phone manufacturer. These centres, run with solar power, are also utilised for counselling on reproductive health and digital education as well as for motivating girls and their families for education.
The impact is visible in the villages such as Jilota, Medabas, Musakheda, Ismailpur, Ghansoli, Chorbasai and Kolgaon. From Bagora village, half-a-dozen girls travel as a group to Kishangarh Bas every day to attend college. Nahida, a Bachelor of Arts student, said marriage was nowhere on priority for the girls until they completed their education.
The project, funded by the American Jewish World Service, has also led to the establishment of groups called Mewat Balika Manch, which fine-tune girls’ skills and provide subject-specific support for board examinations. Besides, people’s conventions and workshops with religious leaders were organised to discuss the ways to stop the dropout of girls from schools.