‘My parents cannot afford it’, every girl in my class, in college, had the same thing to say, whenever we would sit down to talk about our future plans. Only a handful of the girls that I knew, across batches, were planning to prepare for post-graduation entrance exams. The reason being a lack of resources to fund their aspirations for higher studies. Being able to study dentistry in a private dental college in itself was considered a big privilege for girls back in the day. Even for a student who had secured a seat via entrance exam, the yearly fee was hefty. The future plan for most girls thus was to get married, and settle down, and then move into practising as a dentist. Ironically, parents who didn’t have money for further education of their daughters seemed to have much more funds at their disposal for their marriages. A common practice in Indian households.
Saving up for a daughter’s marriage is a common practice in Indian households. Her marriage is their biggest responsibility along with adhering to the social pressure to do it as lavishly as possible. This is one of the reasons a daughter is seen as a burden in Indian households. As she grows up, so does the worry in the minds of her parents, of the impending social and familial duty, that’ll break their backs financially. In some households, mothers and grandmothers start setting aside money to buy jewellery for the girl in the house. And why just gold, planning and saving up for a daughter’s marriage goes is a much-nuanced job that we credit it to be.
I remember how, even before my rishta was fixed, my mother asked a female relative to bring a yellow saree for me she was travelling down south. We anyway would need it, so find not cash in on this travel opportunity she argued. I got married in that yellow saree. That’s the kind of foresight that goes into marrying off daughters in our country.
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And in this scheme of things, a daughter’s education often ceases to be a priority. So when a girl who has worked hard through her boards, her pre-entrance exams, her collage is ready to pursue higher education, her parents raise their hands and surrender. We don’t have money to educate you further. What we do have are funds for your marriage, but what Indian parents would give those to their daughter so that she could pursue higher studies, become highly qualified and have better prospects of being financially independent? How are we to fund that fancy marriage of yours then?
According to the All India Survey of Higher Education for 2018-19, women make up for 33.7 percent in Law, 28 percent in BTech and 28.86 percent BE courses in India. The number of women pursuing an MTech degree, in fact, has gone down from 64 for every 100 men in 2014-15 to 54 in 2018-19. The situation is not bad all over. Trends are changing. For instance, the number of women pursuing MBA courses has gone up from 58 per 100 men in 2014-15, to 75 in 2018-19. However, this doesn’t essentially mean that these women go on to have flourishing careers. Even in fields where women outnumber men, such as medical (women make up for 51 percent here), women do not end up in the workforce.
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For instance, in a 2016 article, The Times of India quoted findings from a 2011 study titled Human Resources for Health in India, according to which women make up for a paltry 17 percent of allopathic doctors. We do not need a study to know where women head, if not into our workforce, despite getting their degrees. Marriage, motherhood, conditioning to prioritise family life over work claims innumerable female careers in our country. Parents flatly telling their daughters, that they do not have funds to educate them further, or a stream of their choice, but then pulling all stops when it is time to get them married, not only restricts the growth of women, but also kills their will.
People you love the most tell you that no matter how hard you work, no matter how talented you are, eventually the priority for us and the society is that you get married and “settle” into a family life. Some women fight this stigma and flourish, many simply resign to their fate, finding alternate careers or doing exactly what the society tells them to. Dreams die, the world continues to run on its old ways.
With changing times, it is not enough for parents to educate their daughters, if the ultimate goal is still to get them married, and not to mould them into independent individuals. The amount of effort they and their child put into achieving academic success cannot come undone under social pressure to marry them off with the best possible showmanship that they can afford.
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So, dear parents, encourage your daughters to be financially independent. When each parent will put their foot down, the society will have no other option than to change its ways. And even if it doesn’t, does it matter? More than your daughter’s happiness?
Image Credit: Culture India
The views expressed are the author’s own.