Schools continue to be far for girls in India

We visited my home-town Rajkot in Diwali. The girls get the luxury of the play area in the apartment, where my parents stay, and they make full use of it. During the time that we were in Rajkot, apart from O +ve and B +ve, they were only a couple of children in the play area meant for residents of 50 flats. I had a passing discussion with one of the children about his schooling, and I realized that the schools continue to be far for girls in India.

The child I spoke to studies in the 5th standard of DPS, Rajkot. As per the school’s website, Delhi Public School Rajkot founded in 2002, is one of the schools run under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society, recognized throughout the academic world for its progressive approach to education, path breaking educational practices and commitment to excellence.

I was speaking to the child about his school, classes, course and so on. I asked him about the number of girls in his class and he told me that the number of girls is limited in the school itself, and not just his class. He actually gave me his own version of the reason for this scenario. He told me that the school is far from the city, so the girls are less in the school. I asked him that he goes in the school bus, then how could it be far for the girls? He again repeated that the girls in the school are less as the school is far and what has it got to do with the school transport provided by the school itself? We moved on to other topic but his answer that the school is far for girls stayed with me.

Gender stereotypes built at an early age

I realized from the child’s answer that he has been already programmed. From someone, from somewhere, he has already learnt and accepted that the girls should not be going to the schools far from home. Availability of school transport does not make him budge from his position. The idea of equality of opportunities does not appeal to him. The notion that he, as a boy, is privileged is drilled into his mind.

Differential gender behaviour

My mother informed me a bit about the child and his family. His elder sister works as an interior designer in Dubai and did a course in France – everything all alone. Now, it does not occur to him that it is fine for his sister to venture out of the country but not all right for a girl to go to a school on the outskirts of the city. The double standard of the expected gender behaviour from the mother, sister, wife, daughter and others is getting added to the thought pattern.

The role of the school

The school, of course, would know that the number of boys outnumber the girls. What would have they done to reverse this trend/discrimination? Apart from perpetuating the situation by being a passive bystander, the organization does not do any justice to the vision and mission of its existence. This is a guess, though. I am sure that if the school is working towards this issue, the 5th grader would not have answered the way, he did.

The origin of gender stereotyping

I believe that this gender attitude gets inculcated in a child from the family, including the double standard. Yet, it is considered inappropriate to involve the family in this discussion. I am sure that if I would have gone to discuss this with the child’s father, I would have been asked to leave. It is something like we know that someone is corrupt, is taking dowry, is a bigot yet we continue the relationship with a pretension that everything is fine and we should not intrude in one’s personal space, even though it is detrimental to the society. They, after all, walk among us.

Conclusion

I know that India is progressing. The women are making the country proud in various spheres – they are heading corporates, winning medals, leading changes in the society. I also know that we continue to have one of the worst male:female ratio and a gender discrimination that starts from birth and continues for the entire life-cycle of the woman.

I understand that the readers of this article might feel that I am being needlessly pessimistic when the positive change is happening all-around and the girls are outshining the boys.

Speaking to the 5th grader of one of the elite schools of the country led me to believe that the wheels of change in India is going to grind way too slowly and schools continue to be far for girls in India.

Maybe, I am reading too much from one example.

What is your say?

Warangal Zoo Visit – Our Children Deserves More

What should differentiate a child from a metro city to a non-metro city, or an up-country town? The child has the access to the same curriculum, similar technology – internet, even the malls irrespective of the place where s/he stays. Ideally, the difference has to be none, but that is not the case and we know it.

I suppose among the few differentiating factors – one is the physical experience that a child can get for his/her exposure. A visit to Warangal Zoo set me thinking on why we treat the children from non-metro locations as lesser mortals when it comes to investing in a better experiential environment for them.

The First Step

I visited Warangal Zoo on 27th October 2018 with my 4-year old twin daughters. They really look forward to visiting a zoo and this was no different. At the ticket counter, a charge for a battery operated vehicle was mentioned. I asked about the same, I was told that they have only one vehicle and it has broken down.

After entering the zoo, I asked the security and he said that the driver was on leave. Whatever be the reason, an organization focusing on customer service would never have been so casual in their approach to their customers – children in this case. If it is broken, get it repaired; if the driver is on leave, I suppose it is not rocket science to drive a battery operated vehicle for n number of staff working in the zoo.

The Animals

Warangal zoo has three large animals – the bears, the jackals and a leopard. We went to the jackal moat first. The girls are under the jungle book trance currently, so they started shouting for Tabaqui, unfortunately, we found none. We went to the bear enclosure next; the girls started shouting for Baloo, again we did not find any animals.

Both the enclosures are in such bad shape; I was convinced that there are no animals inside. There was no staff around for us to ask. The girls were very discouraged to see that their efforts were not yielding any results.

The next up was the leopard enclosure. The leopard was in a good mood to give a close-up to the visitors. The girls were overjoyed. We saw that there was a bird inside the enclosure, sitting on the opposite end to the leopard. The leopard also noticed the bird, sat still for a couple of minutes, ran and pounced on the bird. The bird managed to flew away. It was some sight. And a thought that enclosure was broken from somewhere for the bird to fly in and fly out!!

We finally saw one zoo-keeper. The girls asked the leopard’s name, it was called Deva. We also asked about the jackals and the bears but realized that the zoo-keeper could not communicate except for Telugu and the girls did not understand what he was speaking. The girls wanted to know the age of the leopard, what is fed to the leopard, was the leopard a boy or a girl, did the leopard have a friend – but the zoo-keeper was in no¬†mood to talk to us. He was busy chatting with his colleagues who had come to meet him.

Next stop was the ostrich enclosure. The girls were very excited to see the giant birds. Next, to the enclosure, a person was cutting some leaves, presumably to feed the birds. The girls asked about what the leaves were and if they can try their hand at cutting the leaves. He shooed us away, maybe the zoo has some secret feed ingredients that it wants nobody to see.

We thought that we were coming to the end of the zoo, it was wilderness ahead. There were no signs anywhere. We just walked on enjoying the shade of the trees and the tweeting of the birds. And, we stumbled upon the deer enclosures – the sambar deer and the spotted deer. The other 2 enclosures were empty.

As we kept walking on, it was another shot at the wilderness and a wooden bridge to cross a dirty stream – looking like drainage water. The girls had an adventure crossing the bridge with the large cracks, where they could actually lose their foot down, and the creaking sounds it made.

We realized later that we were actually encircling the zoo and we came up on the other side – we saw 3 iguanas in a small cage, a crocodile in water with an empty enclosure next to it, lots and lots of tortoise hatchlings, an aviary with 19 cages (O+ve counted them). We also saw “the beautiful bird of the earth” – a blue-coloured bird, as one of the girls called it. My wife told us later that it was the state bird of Telangana. We also saw 2 black swans and a white swan, in the water dirty enough to make the white swan black by the time we visit again.

The End

That was it. We were through with the visit of a 50-acre zoo. Very fortunately, the girls brought us back to the jackal and the bear enclosures all over again. The sun had set, the guard was whistling for the visitors to leave and taking it as a sign, animals had come out. We did manage to see them.

I did not find Environment Education Centre, Library, Auditorium and Museum in the Warangal Zoo premises; as I found them on the net. The Facebook page of Warangal Zoo – Kakatiya Zoological Park has no updates since 29 July 2017. The last 6 updates have photographs of politicians and no animals. Wondering what that means?

All in all, I remember Warangal Zoo for non-functional battery operated vehicle, a lot of empty enclosures, poorly kept enclosures where the animals were actually present and no signage for the visitors, beyond the first turn. I would also remember it for the stinking toilet and a non-functional water dispenser. I am sure that a zoo in a metro location would have none of these. Why should the children in a non-metro location have such a third-grade experience? If their parents can pay for the fancy schools, multiplex, internet bandwidth, online shopping – why would they not afford a zoo which is better managed and with animals?

It is about my perspective though. My girls did enjoy their outing of the Warangal Zoo. But for that matter, put them in a green space with squirrels, insects, leaves and twigs and they will enjoy that too. The crux of the matter is why we raise children with an experience, calling it a Zoo, which kills their quest for a better experience.

PS: Regarding zoo-keeper’s attitude towards children of not speaking to them / not answering their queries, each of the zoos in India, I suppose, will score the same. We know how to reduce an experiential venture to just a visual thing to pass by as a customary task.

My Name Is Madhavi, We Are Just Like You

Inspired by “My Name is Madhavi” from Karadi Tales, my wife wrote the below poem for O +ve and B +ve. We use this to introduce different regions and languages of the country to the girls.

My name is Hemu, I am from Jammu
I speak Kashmiri But I am just like you

My name is Bela, I am from Rourkela
I speak Odiya But I am just like you

My name is Rupali, I am from Manali
I speak Pahari But I am just like you

My name is Rameswar, I am from Bastar
I speak Gondi But I am just like you

My name is Jaswinder, I am from Amritsar
I speak Punjabi But I am just like you

My name is Kishore, I am from Indore
I speak Hindi But I am just like you

My name is Bansi Lal, I am from Karnal
I speak Haryanvi But I am just like you

My name is Sachi, I am from Khunti
I speak Santhali But I am just like you

My name is Aniket, I am from Ranikhet
I speak Kumaoni But I am just like you

My name is Kalicharan, I am from Champaran
I speak Bhojpuri But I am just like you

My name is Devashree, I am from Kashi
I speak Sanskrit But I am just like you

My name is Baichung, I am from Lachung
I speak Bhutia But I am just like you

My name is Shivani, I am from Pilani
I speak Marwari But I am just like you

My name is Subrota, I am from Malda
I speak Bengali But I am just like you

My name is Vasundhara, I am from Vadodara
I speak Gujarati But I am just like you

My name is Bendang, I am from Tuensang
I speak English But I am just like you

My name is Mili, I am from Dilli
I speak Sindhi But I am just like you

My name is Somadeva, I am from Ambassa
I speak Tripuri But I am just like you

My name is Madhuri, I am from Ratnagiri
I speak Marathi But I am just like you

My name is Sharmila, I am from Lamka
I speak Meithei But I am just like you

My name is Benjamin, I am from Bambolim
I speak Konkani But I am just like you

My name is Hitler, I am from Williamnagar
I speak Garo But I am just like you

My name is Jamshedji, I am from Panchgani
I speak Parsi But I am just like you

My name is Margaret, I am from Mamit
I speak Mizo But I am just like you

My name is Basavaraju, I am from Mangaluru
I speak Kannada But I am just like you

My name is Mamang, I am from Tawang
I speak Monpa But I am just like you

My name is Madhavi, I am from Alleppey
I speak Malayalam But I am just like you

My name is Mary, I am from Puducherry
I speak French But I am just like you

My name is Ranimai, I am from Madurai
I speak Tamil But I am just like you

My name is Sultan, I am from Kiltan
I speak Mahl But I am just like you

My name is Xavier, I am from Nicobar
I speak Nicobarese But I am just like you

My name is Melissa, I am from Silvassa
I speak Portuguese But I am just like you

My name is Chamanthi, I am from Tirupati
I speak Telugu But I am just like you

My name is Arundhati, I am from Nalbari
I speak Assamese But I am just like you

My name is Asaad, I am from Nizamabad
I speak Urdu But I am just like you

My name is Manan, I am from Daman
I speak Warli But I am just like you

We are Arka Iha, we are from India
We speak multi-languages
But we are just like you

Raising Children and Being Responsible Citizens

Our 4-years old twin daughters do not go to a formal environment – school / day-care / nursery. We have ample enough time to venture out as a part of their growing up. As the inquisitiveness and the curiosity of a child to know about her surroundings increases, wherever/whenever we go, the girls invariably keeps asking the below questions:

  • Why did the uncle spit on the road?
  • Why did the uncle not stop at the red light?
  • What is the uncle doing facing the wall?
  • Why is the uncle throwing the plastic bag on the road?
  • Why is the uncle driving at so high speed?
  • What is the smoke coming out of uncle’s mouth?

All of you also, I suppose, would have heard these questions and more from the innocent children. What has been your response?

I will tell you mine. Honestly, I do not have the courage to walk up to any of the men doing any of the above-mentioned activities and speak to them about what they did / they are doing. I just try to change the subject and try to divert my daughters’ attention elsewhere. The girls keep repeating these questions and till date, I have not been able to give any sort of sensible answers to them.

I had been thinking about these. I saw a connecting link to all these questions – It is always an UNCLE who is doing these activities that the children keep asking about. Why is it always an Uncle/Brother? It is never an Aunty/Sister who are seen doing such activities.

Why is it always a MAN, invariably a MAN?

I would be guilty of all such behaviours in my earlier avatar of being a non-parenting man. Now that, I am with my children, I want to set the best example for them. I would not indulge in any activity that I would find difficult to explain to my daughters.

In Indian society, women bear the primary responsibility of raising children. How much of un-civic activities in the society would get attributed to the women, as compared to the men? You, of course, know the answer. Why would that be?

We see that a man flouting the civic rules in public becomes a different person altogether, most of the times, when he is with his family. Just that, he does not seem to be spending much time with his family outside the 4 walls of his house.

Basis the above, I found a simplistic explanation of the man’s behaviour. The man who is busy doing the above-mentioned un-civic activities has not lent a helping hand to his wife/mother/sister in raising a child. I am not at all implying that to be a decent man, raising a child is a must. A man can turn out be a gentleman even without raising a child. Just that, a man doing un-civic activities is necessarily not contributing to raising a child in his family.

After all, no man would want to be seen doing wrongful activities in front of his own growing-up children. A man provides for his family, supposedly, hence no man would want to do activities that will lead to an unwanted conduct to his own self by his children.

The man gradually becomes more accommodative, more progressive, more tolerant, more persuasive – more of all the wanted qualities, once he starts staying at home for an extended period, on a continuous and not a one-off basis, with his children.

As a society, to improve ourselves, we have to encourage the active role of men in parenting. I am sure that this will have a cascading effect in us becoming a better civilization with men getting to understand what it goes into raising future citizens and making a better world for his children.

Thus, I present the case for being responsible citizens. The man has to learn how to be a man – raise a child.

How gender stereotypes get built in children by our daily statements

I have realized that there is a discussion going on about why the kitchen set gets gifted to the girls and the cricket set to the boys. Why Pink and Barbie are for the girls and Blue and Cars are for the boys? Why not the other way round or a different way altogether?

The objective of the discussion gets centred on keeping the child away from the gender stereotypes. A well-intentioned objective, I suppose. However, is the gender stereotypes limited to such obvious examples only?

I have heard the below statements quite a number of times in my own house-hold spoken by me / my wife:

I / Papa have / has come tired from office. Please do not bother me / him.

I / Papa have / has got a surprise gift for you. Say thank you to Papa.

I / Papa have / has a holiday today. Let me / him take some rest.

I / Papa am / is doing office work at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is taking an office call at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is working hard for your future. Remember this.

I / Papa will not eat your left-overs. Please give it to me.

I / Papa will play with you once you are fed and bathed.

I / Papa will decide what / where to shop and how much to spend.

I / Papa will not clean your poop. Please come over to me.

I suppose the above statements were regular fodder to the girls till the time I was working, one and a half-year back. Some of these statements were overtly said, some were understood by our twin daughters, even if not said explicitly. Once I left my job to become a full-time stay-at-home father to our twin daughters and my wife joined her organization www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet, it was also an end to the above statements.

The girls, no longer, hear the above statements from their mother / me. I do not use any of the above statements for my wife even though I am fully aware that she slogs it out for the whole day running an experiential travel firm. I know that she used all the above statements for me even though I would have spent the whole day sitting on a chair, whiling away my time in meetings and breaks.

Even though my wife works and I do not any more, I cannot get myself to make above statements for her. Which, a mother is expected to keep making for her child’s father. To make matters worse, as a working mother (my wife), she cannot make any of the above statements herself, it does not occur to her. Rather, she keeps feeling guilty for leaving her children, which was an alien feeling to me, when I was working myself.

If I would have been still working, the girls would have continued hearing the above-mentioned statements. Their initiation in the Indian gender stereotypes between a man and a woman would have been over, by now.

What has got a kitchen set and cricket set / Blue and Pink / Barbie and Cars got to do with introducing gender stereotypes to the children?

I feel we do it all the time with each and every conversation, about our own perceived roles and responsibilities as parents. We need to get over our own gender stereotypes to start with, easier said than done.

What’s your say?

What should the parents of a 4-years old know – Part 2

This is the second part of “what should the parents of a 4-years old know”. For the first part, please click here.

Reward / Conditionality:

Being a stay-at-home parent has meant that I am never in a hurry. As the girls do not go to any formal environment, it has meant that they are also never in a hurry. In the case of any issue / any disagreement holding us up, we keep discussing it for whatever time possible, which is all the time. For that matter, even when we are outside the house.

We have consciously avoided getting the girls to act on a conditional basis. I promise that the focus will always be on the task and nothing else, though the task may not fructify at all, number of times.

Keep talking / explaining to the child:

As none of us is in hurry to do any task / go anywhere, we tend to discuss a lot. The girls keep on asking questions and I keep on giving answers to the best of my and Google’s capabilities. Though, this means that when we actually need to get ready / finish the task in a hurry, we are invariably late.

As a parent, I would want to encourage my child’s curiosity and if that means non-stop chattering and getting late for the task on hand, so be it. At least till the time, we can afford to.

Work on my own short-comings:

This is another tough one for me. I used to be a person with a short temper. I have realized that whenever I make the environment around not me not so pleasant, it has a direct impact on the girls. Of course, it is not a great discovery. For all the gyaan given to me, I had never heeded. Now, when I have seen the consequences on my daughters, I do not need any other further excuse not to change.

I realize that if there is anything that can bring about a positive change in one’s own self, it is being with a child.

Play, play & play:

What should the 4-year old be doing? Play, play & play.

Expectations:

It is a tough one. Well, let us be honest. After all the above inputs, what is the expected output? The child may not sing a nursery rhyme when you ask her to. S/he may not be at her best behaviour when you want her to. The child may want just a single pony when you want her to put two.

The resultant action of what we are trying to do with our children means that we have to keep our expectations from them in check.

I suppose around 3-5 years is the age of a child when s/he is actually a child. I have no memories of my being 3-5 years old. The daughters will also not have memories either when they are grown-up. How does it matter that they learn their alphabets/numbers 3-6 months, maybe even more, here and there?

We live only once, the childhood also comes only once. We long for those carefree days. It is not going to return for us though, and we have decided to give it to our daughters to the extent possible.

The last thing I want to know as a parent for my 4-year olds – Be a child.

PS: The things are of course not as good/rosy as I have written above. I am also trying to grow up with my daughters and trying to see how it works out for us, as a family. As mentioned in the beginning, we are a work-in-progress.

What should the parents of a 4-years old know

The twins have turned 4-years old. They are excited to tell people that they are not three years anymore. Even if they are not asked about their age, they go around announcing proudly that they have changed a year.

They, as well as, we as parents get asked about what they know and how much they know. I was also thinking quite a lot about what they have learnt and what they have not. Suddenly, it occurred to me as to why the parents do not get asked about what they know, have started knowing / in the process of knowing / they think they should start knowing after raising kids for four years long; for that matter, any years long.

I suppose it is not just the child who grows and learns, it is we as parents who also grow and learn all along. And we need to ask ourselves as well. I have jotted down the ideas that I feel I have learnt as a parent of 4-year olds. However, for all practical purposes, it is a work-in-progress for me on almost all the ideas, if not all. I keep discussing these ideas with my wife and we, as parents, keep evolving and learning in our own ways.

Academics:

The girls do not go to pre-school / day-care / nursery; as yet. They are not going to go for another year. In the house, we do try to teach them. I have made the promise to myself that I am not going to get worked up about their academics till they turn five years, and not going to work them up either.

We have realized that they are normal children, have the capacity to learn and are learning at their own pace. And, they can continue doing so, for another year.

Comparison:

It is a tough one, as human beings we are wired to compare with the surroundings. As the girls have not been exposed to a formal learning environment, they might seem to lag behind the children of their age. It can also be looked upon as that they continue to enjoy their childhood perks, as they are supposed to be doing. It all depends on the perspective, of course.

I promise myself that I will put the theory in action that every child is unique and has the freedom to learn at their own pace. I shall not compare.

Adjectives:

For me, using an adjective amounts to labelling/branding of the child. The child is just growing up, there is no way to know if the current trait is going to continue or a new attribute is going to pop up at any point in time. Why put the child in the shackle of a word?

I feel that identifying the adjective for a child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I promise that I shall not use any tags/ labels/adjectives for the child.

Food:

We have consciously kept our daughters away from soft-drinks and fast food; they have not yet tasted either of them. On my own, I would have kept them away from chocolates as well, but I suppose that is another story. Once they grow up, they will have what they want to. As a child, they are supposed to eat what is cooked on a daily basis and that is what they do.

One of the pleasant surprises of our parenting journey is that both the girls eat all the vegetables. Keeping all the fingers crossed.

For the second part of the article, please click here.