A hero & her heroism
While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.
Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.
It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.
Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.
While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.
The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.
In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.
The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.
When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.
Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.