One early morning when my mother and I were busy making tea for everyone, she told me that I should do a PhD. My instant reaction was to roll my eyes because that’s not what I want from my life. But then I realized, it was a much higher expectation than what parents have from their children, especially girls usually. When women of my age are being married off and taking care of their children, my mother wants me to get a Ph.D. It is not even an option for many women and I am indeed thankful that my mother wants her daughter to be educated and empowered and not to be dependent on her husband. But the question that we need to ask again and again is why should a PhD or higher education be a privilege that only a few women have? What about those women who really want to have a PhD but are forced to give up on their dreams? Besides, just because it is a privilege, should I give up on what I really want to do? Until when will women have to sacrifice their dreams either to get married or to compromise with whatever opportunity they are being provided due to lack of support from family?
According to data by the University Grant Commission, in the year 2017-18, over one lakh men applied for PhDs as opposed to only 65,000 female enrolments.
It was in 1848 when Savitribai Phule opened the first school for girls in India. It was in 2009 that the Right To Education Act was passed in India making education compulsory for every child in India. And now it is 2020 when education is still a privilege that many women are deprived of. Even today, some girls in India are not allowed to go to school and have to make do with basic education. While some who are sent to schools and colleges are asked to quit in the midway when they attain marriageable age. Research shows that the overall literacy rate in India in the year 2017-18 was 73.2 percent, in which the male literacy rate was 81.5 percent while female literacy rate stood at 64.6 percent only. Besides, out of 313 million illiterate people in India, 59 percent are women. Indian society’s obsession with getting women married at the “right” age takes precedence over ambitions of a woman. Her education and freedom come with the condition that the prospects of her marriage should not be affected.
This is the reason why a lot of women are not allowed to pursue certain careers or courses like PhD that take a longer time to complete and would require more freedom than families are willing to give their daughters. According to data by the University Grant Commission, in the year 2017-18, over one lakh men applied for PhDs as opposed to only 65,000 female enrolments. Besides, our patriarchal society deems that it is much more important that a woman is groomed to be a good wife and a mother. And these norms govern what should be her field of study or career if at all her in-laws are okay with a working bahu.
I wonder if I can tell my mother without thinking twice that PhD is not what I want to do, though I do not want to marry either.
Amid these stereotypes, if a woman wishes to major or have a PhD, she is gaslighted with questions like when will you marry then? Who will marry you if you cross 25 or 30? If you study so much, no man will want to marry you because they do not want educated bahus! How long will your parents take care of you? In fact, some women are made aware of their privilege since they have been allowed to complete their graduation and told that they should not be so demanding (Aur kitna padhegi?). That she should learn to compromise and sacrifice, because after all she is a woman!
How do these restrictions make sense even today? Women today are prime ministers, astronauts, IAS officers, police officers, scientists, writers and painters and what not. Then why do so many women have to struggle to attain higher education? I wonder if I can tell my mother without thinking twice that PhD is not what I want to do, though I do not want to marry either. Maybe I will have to enroll for my PhD before my mother gives in to the societal pressure for my marriage. After all, many women will look up to me and say, how privileged you are and that I should not let it go waste. Though I wish the “privilege” that I am supposed to have allowed me to do whatever I want.