Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

232. Glimpses of Bangkok: 1: Bangkok Art and Culture Center

Bangkok was never in my "To Visit" list.  Suddenly I had to come to Bangkok for some work. First surprise was the name of the Bangkok airport - "Suvarnbhumi" (Golden Land).  My first impression of the city on that Thursday night was good. Wide roads, no traffic jam, and shining skyscrapers. The receptionist at the hotel welcomed me by folding both the hands. It was only next day that I realized that this hand-folded welcome is the traditional Thai greetings.

My plan was simple. Work on Friday, leave Bangkok on Saturday morning. However, the work remained unfinished on Saturday and I had two full unplanned days in this world famous tourist destination. It was very humid with no sign of rain. So, I decided to go slow, visit only couple of places. On Saturday morning when I left the hotel, I saw that the roads within the city were narrow.

I had finalized two spots on Saturday, for which Sky Train was more convenient. I was staying in Sukhumvit area and the nearest Sky Train Station was 'Asok'.

In the station there was a counter where we can exchange notes for coins and use the coins to get a ticket from the vending machines. There were maps in the station and the exact amount needed for each station was displayed, so there was no problem in purchasing the right ticket.

There were regular announcements in the station and in the train. I smiled when I heard a station name "Nana".  The Sky Train was crowded but the crowds were disciplined. I have traveled for considerable time by Delhi Metro and I noted certain differences in Delhi Metro and Bangkok Sky Train.

Delhi Metro has a reserved coach for women, which Bangkok Sky Train does not have. Second: Bangkok Sky Train has sliding glass doors on platform also - which Delhi Metro does not have.

In Delhi Metro, each passenger has to go through personal security. Here in Bangkok one has to enter through metal dictator, there is a security official, but they not necessarily check every passenger again. The instructions show how Buddhist Monks are respected.

The 'Sky Train' map was also printed on the ticket, so I had no difficulty in reaching Siam station. After coming out of the station I was confused about the direction I needed to take. I spotted a 'Tourist Information Center' just outside the station and the staff there, guided me to reach at 'Bangkok Art and Culture Center'.  There is no entrance fee.

I had assumed this place to be a museum and I was partially right. This nine-storey building has paintings, sculpture, handicrafts, woodcraft, ceramic art,music and design displays. There are couple of book stores and an Art Library.  There are coffee shops where one can have lengthy discussions over a cup of coffee. When it comes to art, I am almost illiterate. However, I was in this center for more than three hours and enjoyed the visit. Here are some of the snapshots from the Center.





It was good to see that the information of the artists was also displayed.

There was some experience/experiment related to sound waves. This was something new for me. There were number of photographs on the walls. Each photograph was given a unique number.  Every person entering the exhibition hall was handed over a small cellphone-like handset.

One was expected to type the photograph number on this machine, press the green  button and hold the machine near the ear. For different photographs, I could hear different sound waves (if I am using the right term!), but I could not understand what it was all about. For people more interested in this, the following photograph might be of some help.

I was surprised to see this huge wall poster of the Hindi film in the Art section. Is this film already released in India?

I was feeling tired as I was walking for more than three hours.  When I asked for the directions of my next destinations, I realized that it was nearby. So, I continued walking with enthusiasm.

To be continued ...

Monday, March 7, 2016

231. #PledgeForParity

Tomorrow is 8 March. Tomorrow is ‘International Women’s Day’. Tomorrow is a day of exchanging best wishes. Tomorrow will be presented women’s problems with statistics and concerns will be expressed. Tomorrow there will be speeches, articles and sighs. Tomorrow people will be hopeful after coming across examples of women’s success. Tomorrow Radio, Newspapers and Television channels will salute Women and many will express Gratitude. The Market will shout about ‘Discounts to Women’. Tomorrow women will wear their best dresses and lunch together. Tomorrow will be a day of smiles and despair.

Whatever is the experience, for many people it last for at most 17-18 hours. On 9 March, everything generally falls back to normalcy. People, especially men joke about ‘how there is a need for men’s day’ or ‘how women are getting all the favors in this world’. Many times I feel that such opinions are expressed because people are not aware of the history of why and how ‘Women’s Day’ came into existence.

Before moving further, I would like to emphasize two points. One, I do not believe that only women have problems in this world and all men are happy. No one with common sense would make such a sweeping statement. Men too face problems, they too struggle, they too have responsibilities and men too are unhappy. However, when we think about women-men relationships, we realize that men have an upper hand. When I say women-men relationship, it is not about husband-wife relationship (as most of us in India spontaneously think) but son-mother, brother-sister, father-daughter, colleagues … all such relationships show that men get better treatment, men get favor. Women favor their sons over their daughters; because women are born and brought up into a system which favors men. It is an invariable impact of the social structure and the upbringing.  I am not going to discuss ‘Patriarchy’ in details. However, we need to understand that Women’s Movement is not challenging individual men but Patriarchy. Patriarchy means secondary status of women, the existing men-women hierarchy, the stereotypes regarding roles and responsibilities of women and men.

Secondly, one has to accept that not all men are insensitive because they are men and not all women are sensitive to other women just because they are women. There are sensitive men and insensitive men. All the men in the world do not behave badly with every woman they come across. Similarly, there are sensitive women and there are insensitive women. Transformation is expected in both men and women. So, Women’s Movement works not only with women but also with men. For many years we have been taught to treat women as secondary. So it becomes our habit to treat women as if they are inferior to men. It has not happened and it is not happening only in India, but it is a    world-wide phenomenon. There was a time when some believed ‘women to be a separate Class’ and expected them to revolt against another class called ‘men’. But, women’s identity has many aspects (common with men) – such as Religion, Ethnicity, Province, Language, Caste etc. All these factors influence men’s and women’s identities. At the same time women have to carry the burden of being women – across all the societies. In spite of being many differences among women in the world, they share something common which cuts across all the above mentioned factors.

I won’t describe the concept of Patriarchy in details here. Broadly speaking, male progeny preference; discrimination between men (sons) and women (daughters) in food, clothes, educational opportunities (Women also discriminate because they are born and brought up into Patriarchy); household chores being the responsibility of only women (and girls); control over women’s movement and body; sexual exploitation of women and girls;  lack of inheritance right (in India we have improved laws now); lack of decision power to women regarding how many children she wants and when; … all such points highlight the importance of men in the life we all live. There might be some exceptions around, but we are discussing the general norms.

So, Patriarchy means:  men have control over women: control over women’s productive and reproductive capabilities; control over women’s sexuality, control over women’s mobility, control over all the resources etc. Different institutions and systems like Religion, Family, Law, Education, Market, Politics shape and strengthen Patriarchy.

Let us accept openly that men are also burdened by Patriarchy. They too have to fulfil specific roles and carry out specific responsibilities with which all men are not comfortable. They are also trapped in a system, which no doubt is still more beneficial to them. Women’s Movement turns away from these traditional roles and responsibilities and appeals to us create an environment where all individuals will have equal opportunity to realize their potential. Men and Women have different bodies (though only reproductive system is different), but based on that an entire social structure of discrimination and favor has been created. Women’s Movement is not asking us to change the body, but the asking us to change our ways we look at women’s body. If you review the life of your grandmother/father – mother/father- and you – you will realize that social change always happens. The changes Women’s Movement is seeking are difficult and time taking, but they are not improbable.

If women’s awareness about their Rights increases, men certainly will have to give away most of the benefits they get in Patriarchy. That is one of the reasons why some men dislike Women’s Movement. However, we need to realize that Women’s Movement (and there are different schools of thought within the movement) is not against Men. It is not about Men versus Women, but it is about Men with Women. The “women” are not someone we do not know; she is the mother, the aunt, the grandmother, wife, girlfriend, friend, daughter, colleague, neighbor …., these women enrich our lives, their happiness would make men too happy. Men and Women both need to contribute towards this struggle of Women’s Rights.

The struggle for Women’s Rights is on for centuries. These Rights are classified into Economic Rights, Civil Rights, Socio-Cultural Rights and Political Rights. Basically, all these are Human Rights. The form of the struggle has changed, the tools used by the movement have changed and the response also has changed. Many sensitive men have supported Women’s Movement during the long journey. Many laws have been improved to accommodate Women’s Rights. But we still have a long way to go. Not only in India but across the world, we still have lot to do to achieve the goal of Women’s Rights.

We are not going to discuss history of Women’s Movement here – may be some other time. However, we would briefly look at the evolution of ‘International Women’s Day’.

In 1908, women working in Garment industry in New York (USA), declared strike to demand better working conditions. To support these demands, in 1909, women in USA celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ on 28 February. In 1910, Copenhagen hosted Socialist Conference in which more than 100 women from 17 countries participated. The Conference passed a resolution of celebrating “International Women’s Day’ to support Women’s Rights movement and Right to Vote for Women. However, the date of celebration was not fixed.

In India, on 26 January 1950, Constitution was adopted and it established Right to Vote for both women and men (who have completed 21 years, later the age was reduced to 18). We in India, do not know about women’s worldwide struggle to get Right to Vote. (Also in many countries all men did not have Right to Vote; description of this journey will need separate blog-post.) Let us look at the journey of some of the countries – which will give us some idea of women’s struggle.

Sweden – in 1718, taxpayer women members of the City Guild had the Right to Vote. Women’s Right to Vote was achieved in 1921. United States of America – in 1756, one woman in Uxbridge (Massachusetts) was given a Right to Vote in Town Meeting. In 1910 women’s Right to Vote was established in some of the States and the process was complete in 1920. Great Britain 1928; New Zealand 1929; United States of Soviet Russia in 1917 (after abdication of Czar); 1935 British Raj (included India) and Burma (now Myanmar); 1945 – France, Italy and Japan; 1947 China and Pakistan (initial only literate women could vote in Pakistan, in 1956 the right was extended to all the women); this process is going on. In Saudi Arabia women were granted Right to Vote in 2011 and they could contest municipal election only in 2015. So, the struggle is still on.

As an impact of Copenhagen Conference, on 19 March in 1911, millions of people (both women and men) celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. With Right to Vote, they also supported demands like Right to Work, Right to Vocational Training, Right to Equal treatment (no discrimination) at workplace.

In 1913, women in Soviet Russia filled the streets on the last Sunday of February in demand of Peace. In Europe, Women’s Day was celebrated on and around 8 March in 1914. In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, Russian women took the streets demanding “Bread and Peace”. This was 8 March according to Gregorian Calendar. (Later Russia accepted Gregorian Calendar in 1918.) Within 4 days, Czar abdicated.

Different countries kept on celebrating Women’s Day. In India, All India Women’s Conference Initiated Women’s Day celebration in different towns on 1 March 1930. India celebrates ‘National Women’s Day’ on 13 February which is a birth anniversary of our First Women Governor and Freedom Fighter Sarojini Nayadu.

Women’s Day became truly International in 1975 when United Nations Organization declared 8 March as ‘International Women’s Day’. All the countries now celebrate this Day and many events, discussions are organized on this day to review progress and strategize towards achieving Women’s Rights.

The journey to Gender Equity is a continuous journey.  Every year for ‘International Women’s Day’ a theme is declared so that it does not remain one-day activity. In 1975, the theme was “United Nations recognizes International Women’s Day”. I easily remember the following themes: Women and Human Rights (1998); World Free of Violence Against Women (1999); Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities (2002); Women and HIV/AIDS (2004); Women in Decision Making (2006); Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger (2012).

The theme for 2016 International Women’s Day is #PledgeForParity. Four types of activities are suggested which can be taken up by individuals and/or organizations. 1. Help women and girls to achieve their ambitions: challenge conscious and unconscious bias 2. Call for Gender balanced leadership 3. Value women’s and men’s contribution equally and 4. Create inclusive, flexible cultures. If you come across any other idea, you are free to act on it. I have pledged for the first idea, though these four ideas are not compartmental but connected.

You can sign the page here. If required, develop ideas which you think will work in your environment.

Can we declare our commitment to “Parity” – in home, at workplace, at whatever place we spend time? Can we act with consciousness towards Gender Equity? Both Men and Women are expected to work jointly to arrive at a better world. Signing this pledge only makes us feel better to know that we are not alone on this path. There are millions in the world who are trying to make the world better.
Happy International Women’s Day to you all.

Please, do share your experiences of the journey. I look forward to learning from you.

Monday, December 28, 2015

230. Meena

When I was in Kabul, I came across www.rawa.org, which I found to be very insightful and trustworthy. RAWA stands for ‘Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan’. This in local language is ‘Jamiat-E-Inqalabi Zanan-E-Afghanistan’. There is a sentence which attracts the attention of readers. It says, “If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist, you are with RAWA. Support and help us.”
RAWA is working in Afghanistan since 1977 and is one of the oldest Socio-Political Women’s Organization working for Peace, Freedom, Democracy and Women Rights. RAWA was established by Afghan women and is being run by Afghan women. Referring to the RAWA website, I could understand Afghan women’s perspectives, could better know their struggle and also could understand what they want to achieve, what they are dreaming and striving for. The RAWA website can be accessed in seven to eight different languages, which clearly shows that their well-wishers are spread across the world. It is a surprise that in war-zone Afghanistan somebody thought of establishing Women’s Organization. Moreover in an environment where human rights are least respected, this organization is working for 38 years without diluting its founding principles is a miracle to me.
The person who created this exceptional organization is Meena. She is the founder member of RAWA. There is a brief introduction of Meena on RAWA website. However, I was searching for more information regarding Meena. Then I came across a Marathi book on Meena. This book is a translation of Meena: Heroin of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavias. The English book was published in 2003. The book is translated in Marathi by Shobha Chitre and Dilip Chitre and published by Rajhamsa Prakashana in 2008.
The International Women’s Year celebrated in 1975 (followed by Women’s Decade) was instrumental in generating discourse across the world on status of women and the need to improve women’s participation in all spheres of life. Even in India, Women’s Movement faced the challenge of existing gender stereotypes – this challenge still exists. We will fail to understand the importance of Meena’s and RAWA’s work unless we have a know their context – the situation in Afghanistan.
In July 1973, Daud Khan forcefully removed King Zahir Shah, thus ending his 40 years of rule (1933-73). Daud Khan established Government which was pro-Russia (then USSR). Zahir Shah Government encouraged education of girls and women, even co-education; women were working in different establishments. They were announcing on Radio, they were Air Hostess, they were Telephone operators. For the ease of operations at workplace, these women were not using burqa (veil). However even during those days women’s existence was secondary as the society was governed by Sharia. Meena understood women’s plight at a very young age and in Malalai School she met some wonderful teachers who gave right direction to her inner spark. Meena started thinking independently, rationally and started dreaming about Rights of Women.
Meena was born in Kabul on 27 February 1956. In 1975 she joined Kabul University. The University atmosphere was charged with passionate discussions on different topics including Marx, Islam, Afghan culture and so on. But slowly the atmosphere was spoiled by fundamentalist elements amongst students and professors. In 1976, at the age of 20 she got married with Faij, this marriage was little late compared to the tradition surrounding her. Before accepting marriage proposal, Meena put conditions like she would continue studying even after marriage and Faij will remain loyal to her. It is interesting to note that Faij not only accepted these demands but lived accordingly. He was certainly a different kind of man.
To protest Daud Khan’s pro-Communist approach, Islamic Fundamentalism rose in Afghanistan. People were caught between two conflicting approaches, which were equally harmful for them. During this period of turmoil, Meena decided to establish a Women’s Organization and started meeting women. At this time, Meena was a young girl of 20; newly married; without economic support and without experience in organizing women. However, Meena’s empathy, tenacity and hard work created a group of enthusiastic Afghan women who were ready to struggle for Democracy, Peace and Women’s Rights.
Meena starting meeting different women - with whom she was acquainted – one by one and in 1977 RAWA was established. Both Police (Government) and Fundamentalists treated RAWA as its enemy. So, right from the beginning, ‘Secret for Security’ principle was followed by RAWA. This was necessary because police would have tortured women to get information about RAWA. The hostile police and the fundamentalists – neither were able to destroy RAWA forever. The credit for this strategy goes to vision of Meena.
While reading this book, I was amazed by the work done by Meena and her known and unknown colleagues in RAWA. I kept wondering about the source of the tenacity, the sensitivity and the determination to march forward to achieve the goal – irrespective of the situation. They all were and are indeed amazing women.
Afghanistan’s known history shows that RAWA was the first attempt to organize women to fight for their rights. For these women, the atmosphere was neither congenial outside nor within the home (for most of them) to work through RAWA. They began with small group discussions, helped each other when required, conducted literacy classes – and RAWA progressed from strength to strength through these activities. On many occasions the resolve of RAWA women was tested, and through every such difficulty, their resolve became stronger. Whenever the Government in the country was changed, women paid the worst price.
This is not the place to review history of political situation in Afghanistan. But briefly speaking during the period 1978 to 2001 the head of the Afghan Government were: Daud, Tarakee, Amin, Babrak, Kishtmand, Najibulla, Taliban and Rabbani. Every change in power came with bloodshed, thousand were jailed for no reason and without inquiry, thousands were killed and many more fled away to other countries. With every change, women’s life became more difficult, the restrictions on them kept on increasing, the walls around them grew bigger, and they were more and more suffocated. Life of women in Afghanistan became more difficult with passing time.
During this period RAWA became stronger, its work spread. RAWA was always ready to help women. Women in Afghanistan gathered in front of jail to find out the status of their family members. These women were treated with cruelty. RAWA used to inform the word about these brutalities through pamphlets and distributed them even when the Police was chasing them all the time. RAWA also brought out a monthly called “Payam-E-Zan” – which was first of its kind in the country. RAWA women had always to be worried about police raids on their homes. In such situation how difficult it would be to publish a magazine and distribute it – one who has never faced such situation can only imagine.
Meena was instrumental in bringing out USSR brutalities in Afghanistan. At the same time she foresaw the danger of Fundamentalism and Terrorism. She tried to make the world aware of the problem of Fundamentalism, but we did not listen to her.  
 In 1982, Afghan Government (that was USSR) declared that it would arrest Meena at the first opportunity. It was impossible for Meena to work in Afghanistan. So she crossed border and went to Pakistan where thousands of Afghan migrants were somehow managing to be alive. Many times Meena and her colleagues took risk and crossed the Afghan-Pak border. RAWA colleagues and women stitched clothes to earn livelihood, the provided home and education to orphans, the conducted literacy classes for migrants, the established Malalai hospital and served many sick people.
Even though Meena’s movements were kept secret, on 4 February 1987, Meena disappeared from Quetta (Pakistan). Later RAWA realized that Meena was assassinated. It was a tremendous shock to RAWA, but they continued Meena’s work with a greater determination; realizing that it was their obligation to realize Meena’s dream of Democratic and Peaceful Afghanistan. Unfortunately even at the end of 2015, Afghan women still have a long way to go.
We need to know that Afghan women never had an option of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ government; for decades they have to choose between “worse” and “worst”. It is true that Mujahidin fought against Taliban, but when it comes to women, both Mujahidin and Taliban were equally cruel with women. Even after the New Era of 2001, when Afghan women saw Warlords as part of the existing governance, they knew that their plight and fight was not yet over.
It was necessary for Meena and RAWA to keep a low profile. They had to destroy papers on many occasions fearing police raid. They had to be careful about not keeping any proof about their movement and activities. Whosoever was ruling Afghanistan, they certainly were against Meena and against RAWA, simply because Meena and RAWA fought for Women’s Rights. This is the reason why we had hardly any information about Meena.
After the attack of United States of America on Afghanistan in 2001, Melody Chavias visited Pakistan and Afghanistan; interacted with many colleagues of Meena and then she wrote this book. Generally when we read a biography, we get an almost complete and consistent picture of the life of the heroine/hero of the book. Due to the circumstances in Afghanistan, this book cannot give us the complete picture. However, the glimpses of Meena’s life and work clearly tell us the plight of Afghan women and their courage.

Meena’s life and work and the way RAWA is carrying the torch is very inspiring.
The book is available on Amazon:  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

229. Guess Who?

This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 57; the fifty-seventh edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with Madhu Vajpayee, the author of Seeking Redemption and Shades Publications, the publisher of Friendship- Bonds Beyond Time.

Voting day is an important day in sustaining and strengthening Democracy.

There are Different parties and Different slogans.
There are Different promises and Different manifestos.
There are Different faces and Different issues.
Somehow to me, they all look alike. I cannot differentiate between them, not a bit.

As a patriotic citizen, I always register as a voter and I always vote – that is if my name does not miraculously disappear from the list.

Today the magic – black magic I must say – happens again.
My name is not in the list.

I have a Voter Identity Card but probably I won’t be able to caste vote today.

I move from one counter to another counter.
There are many Smart guys using tablets and smart phones, but my name does not appear on any of those screens.
I am getting irritated, frustrated.
I move away from the polling station, cursing the system, cursing the rules.

Far away from the polling station, one young man approaches me. Apparently, there is no one else on the road. All that crowd I saw is left behind.

He certainly understands that I have not voted, my face is quite transparent, especially when I am in a problem situation.  So maybe he is going to convince me about ‘importance of voting’ or ‘citizen responsibilities’ or something of that kind.

I can ignore him but I automatically stop so that he can talk to me.

He politely asks, “Can you please hold my hand for a minute?”

I am surprised. I don’t know how to respond to this strange request.
I am not young, but still a man, a stranger asking this question to a woman!  

Then I realize that he is offering me a small plastic hand.
It is an election symbol of one of the National Parties in the country.

I forget my frustration and start laughing.

Well, well, now a days this party badly needs someone to hold its hand.

Who will be that? Any guess? 
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Participation Count: 49.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

228. Pessoas Estranhas

Ontem fui a farmácia para comprar penso rápido. O custo para quatro pensos era de dez meticais e quinze meticais para seis. Tinha só onze meticais de troco e duzentos meticais em nota.  

A mulher de caixa levou os onze meticais que eu tinha e deu-me quinze meticais para fazer o pagamento na caixa principal. Fiquei confusa porque se eu ter pedido nada, ela deu-me quatro meticais a mais para que eu pudesse comprar seis pensos.

Algumas vezes encontramos pessoas estranhas que ajudam-nos sem motivo. A lição e’ que todos devemos ajudar as pessoas mesmo sem conhece-las.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

227. Opening Part II

This post narrates glimpses of development work of VSO Mozambique. However, this is written in individual capacity and VSO Mozambique does not necessarily endorse the viewpoint. Names of individuals and places are either not mentioned or changed. If you want to know more about VSO, click here or  here
Understanding a new environment is mostly challenging – even in the era of Information and Technology. As an outsider one has limited access to people’s lives and their perceptions about life. In addition to that as an outsider I am exempted from the general norms and rules of the society; which has a tremendous potential to create superficial interpretation of what I come across. So, cautiously I try to evolve general understanding not only based on my experiences (as I know my limitations) but also based on the experience of others – which they share.

Understanding a society poses another problem; especially when I try to understand through urban societies. With the increased influence of Market Economy and to certain extent its impact on traditional livelihoods; societies are no more homogeneous today. There are multiple streams within any urban society. So I keep on checking and crosschecking notions, practices, ideas, norms, rules and also exceptions – as change is constantly happening.

Due to my active participation in the VSO project (titled The Business of Girls’ Education), I get opportunity to interact with girls (and boys) in primary schools; teachers in primary schools; community members who are involved in School Management through School Councils and officers of Provincial Education Department. We have many discussions on barriers faced by girls in continuing education (and how to overcome those collectively) and that gives me ideas. These interactions throw light on Gender Roles, Gender Based Division of Labor, Access to and Control over Resources, Decision Making in the society. Triangulation is done by habit (not systematically, I must confess) and it fits into what I knew about this society even before I came to Mozambique.

We are in another school; meeting the 6 Lead Girls is an important agenda of the visit. We find that Marta is missing from the group and there are still 6 girls. Since Marta did not appear in the school this year, the school has substituted her with another girl –Cecilia. I do not want to discourage Cecilia, but I want to know where Marta is.

“Did Marta attend the classes regularly last year?” I ask the teacher; an enthusiastic and experienced teacher who is with us in the school.

“Yes,” replies the teacher.
“Why is Marta not coming to school?” I ask. Everybody chooses to remain silent.
“Is she transferred to other school?”
Silence. Not deliberate, but nobody knows.

“Is she not well?”
Nobody knows.

Looking at Cecilia’s face, I dare to ask, “Is she married?”
“Yes,” responds Cecilia

One more 13-14 year girl is married again. In 2015? Yes!

“Is she still in this village?” I continue asking. “Do you know her home?”

Cecilia knows Marta’s house. So accompanied by two girls and the teacher, we walk for twenty minutes.

We come across a cluster of huts and everybody stops. It takes some time for me to realize that the  cluster of huts belongs to one family and unless the Head of the Family (invariably a Man) permits us to enter, we cannot move further.

The father arrives. He might be 40 or even 50, it is hard to tell. The teacher speaks in the local language and explains the purpose of the visit. This is not an occasion for taking photographs. I am using neither camera, notebook nor pen.

“Oh! Marta is married. I have no problem if she continues going to school; but her husband should give her permission,” he explains frankly.

Marta’s husband is studying in the nearby district and Marta continues to stay with her parents. How old is he? May be 20.

“I did not want my daughter to marry, but she married what I can do?” says the father.
“Can we talk to Marta, please?” I ask.

Father goes to a hut in the backside to call Marta, but she refuses to come out. So, with the permission of the father, I go to that hut. But Marta refuses to come out. One of her aunts is there. With her permission, I enter inside. Marta does not know me, we have never met. She pulls her face down, covers it by both the palms and clearly speaks, “I do not like school, and I do not want to go to school.” I am surprised by her clarity of thought. At that moment I do not want to invade her privacy, I do not want to threaten her by my presence. I come out of the hut and tell the aunt, “When Marta wants to meet us, we will come again, let us know.”

On the way back the team discusses. “These girls! They want to marry. Even when her father did not want, she married. What can we do?”

I ask about the lobolo (the bride price) the father would have received. It is about 3000 MT (approximately USD 90). In addition to this the groom clears surrounding land and builds a new hut for the girl’s father (or family).

We could not stop marriage of this girl. However, we can at least bring her back to school. But why did Marta hate the school so much? How many more girls would be preferring marriage, feeling that school is not a place for them? And what exactly happened in the school? Are girls punished? Do they have to do more work in school too? Is it a language issue? (Not Portuguese but local language is spoken in the village.) 

We need to think. We need to strategize. We need to connect not only with the girls and teachers, but also with the community. Yes, through school councils, we have established initial contacts with the community, we need to strengthen those.

To talk to girls regarding consequences of early marriage is necessary but not sufficient. Adults have lot of power over their children, so it is important to work with adults.

And we need to work with boys as well. 

Are our efforts good enough to open better life opportunities for girls like Marta?

 to be continued...