Karuna* was married at the age of 11 to a man who was 7-8 years older than her. Even though she was raised in an industrial town, it could not protect her from the social evil of child marriage. But Karuna is thankful that she married to a good family who allowed her to continue her education without any year lapse. Today she is an entrepreneur, running a parlour of her own. But she had to pay a cost for it. She is subjected to domestic violence regularly without opposing it or sharing it with anyone. But she still asserts that her marital family is ‘good’.
Like Karuna, many girls are married off in my town at an early age. Their education is never preferred over their marital status. All that the child brides can hope is to get a good marital family who can allow them to pursue their dreams in life. Otherwise, they are headed for a misfortune that cannot be avoided.
But is it right to leave women at the favour of ‘good’ in-laws? Shouldn’t parents be responsible enough to educate and empower daughters themselves? Why must the basic rights of women be ignored by their parents or in-laws? Why must parents be more worried about fetching good in-laws and not about providing women with their basic rights?
Education is a privilege for women in India
In our society, education is still seen as a privilege for women. It is more common for sons to be educated and empowered rather than women who are primarily trained to be good wives and daughters-in-law. Girls are forced to drop out of school to learn household chores and get married. It is assumed that if a woman is married, she automatically achieves safety and security in society. The need for education is ignored as women are never perceived as individuals who have the right to know about laws, the environment and the possibilities of becoming empowered.
The only chance for such women to be educated is to be married to a husband or in-laws who understand the value of women’s education. I have witnessed this not only in the case of Karuna but also in the case of Puja* who was married at a small age with a promise that her in-laws will carry the burden of her education. Months have passed since she got married, but Puja has still not been admitted to any school or college. She remains indulged in household responsibilities that she has been burdened with at a small age.
Women’s education is a burden for families
The major problem is that parents perceive women’s education as a burden. Since women are raised as paraya dhan, it becomes more important to “return” her to her “real” family who will carry the burden of her education. But what if the in-laws aren’t ready to invest in their daughter-in-law’s education? What if they too perceive them as paraya (someone who belongs to another family)? Then on whom should daughters be dependent for funding their education? Or should they just forget any possibility of seeking education?
And even if in-laws or parents allow their women to be educated, does it mean women should be grateful to them? That they should cater to their demands and bear injustice just because they paid for her education?
It is high time we value women’s education as much as we do men’s education. Both men and women need to be educated and empowered enough to live independently. Daughters should not be dependent on the hope of getting a good husband to pursue their education and dreams. Education is their basic right and neither parents nor in-laws have the right to alienate them. It is about time we value women’s education more than their marriage. Because marriage is only an option in life but education is a necessity.
Views expressed are the author’s own.