This is an account of the samata.shiksha team’s visit to Latur district.
Trupti Andhare ‘Madam’, Block Education Officer of Latur, has her cabin on the top floor of the Village Council’s office building in Latur. Surrounded by teachers waiting to speak to her, or hoping she will help resolve their issues, she comes across as a dedicated young officer. On one wall of her office hangs a soft board covered in photos from different programmes and poems written by children. A Marathi couplet that accompanies the words ‘Kanya Suraksha Kavach’ (‘Security Shield for Girls’) says:
“Every future mother into a tigress must grow,
Away from house chores, to school must she go!”
On the other wall is a telling poster of a young girl leaping over a fence, followed by two younger children.
I thought that if the couplet were any indication, good things must be happening on the girls’ education front in Latur. I asked ‘Madam’ Andhare about her initiative. She said, “Under ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan’ (‘Education for All Campaign’), we are making all efforts to get both boys and girls into school. We are convinced that education is the only route to progress, and so we want to ensure that each child gets educated. In Latur, too, we aim to achieve this goal. But when I worked as the BEO at Majalgaon in Beed district, I realised that it was not enough to make the girls literate, we also needed to help them become strong, confident, and self-reliant. While I worked there, a girl student was sexually molested by her own teacher. The incident disturbed me deeply, and I was inspired to launch the ‘Kanya Suraksha Kavach’ initiative.”
After her transfer to Latur, Andhare ‘Madam’, with support from other women, inaugurated her novel programme in August 2014. It is aimed primarily at adolescent girls in the age group of 10 to 16 years. Andhare ‘Madam’ says, “Even now, in the rural areas, there are many misconceptions around menstruation. Often, parents do not send their daughters to school during those days. A girl is naturally curious about the changes taking place in her body, but she is made to feel awkward and does not know to whom she may turn. Our programme aims to have doctors and teachers give the students scientific information about the physical and psychological changes that accompany puberty. As part of this initiative, all ZP schools in Latur tehsil have a “sanitary kit”, which contains essentials like sanitary pads, painkillers and some other generic medicines. We also insist on separate toilets for boys and girls in every school.”
Besides learning about the changes taking place inside their bodies, girls are also taught about ” “good touch” and “bad touch”. The teachers speak to them about sexual harassment or abuse, and how abuse is often perpetrated by someone familiar. They give the students tips on what they should do and whom they could turn to in such situations. They emphasise that the girl must never suffer the harassment or abuse in silence but approach her mother, or a member of the family whom she trusts, or even her teacher, to seek help.
Often, because girls are reluctant or unable to speak openly, all schools within the tehsil area have a ‘Kanya Suraksha Kavach’ complaint drop box. The girls are encouraged to write about their problems or ask questions, without identifying themselves, and drop these into the box. The schools also display the helpline number 18002332688 at their entrances.
There is a talk about extending this programme to include the boys in this age, as they too are vulnerable and need proper guidance, particularly during puberty.
The students also receive training on how to use phone number 100 to contact the police, or the Childline number 1098 on which they can report instances of violence and abuse being faced by children.
The girls are told that in order to solve problems it is important to be fearless. They are trained in judo and karate for self-defence, and encouraged to participate in sports. They are shown informative films like, ‘Ice-cream wale gandey uncle’ (‘The bad Uncle Ice-cream’), ‘Ek mintachey kaam hai bhau’ (‘It just takes a minute, brother’) and ‘Umlu dya kalyanna’, (let the flowers blossom) which aim to educate young girls about sexual abuse.
At the same time, the importance of education as a path to overall development is reiterated on every occasion. The teachers try impress upon the girl students that under no circumstances should they stop their education, and they should try and convince their parents and guardians of its necessity. In rural areas, when there are family difficulties, daughters’ education tends to be stopped whereas the sons’ continues unhindered. So, as part of ‘Kanya Suraksha Kavach’, street plays too are performed, marches organised, parent-teacher meetings and counselling sessions held through which attempts are made to convince guardians of the importance of girls’ education.
There are also discussions on current affairs, and social issues. The girls are given opportunities where they can speak up openly. They receive legal and career guidance from time to time. Women are often afraid to visit government offices when the need arises. So a “visit to a government office” is regularly arranged, to help them overcome their lack of confidence and fear of authority. They visit places like the village committee office, the district council, police station, post office and so on, to understand the work there. They are also informed about various schemes under the Women and Family Welfare Ministry, which offer benefits of which they can avail themselves.
In May 2017, a GR circulated by the Govt of Maharashtra made it mandatory for every school, whether private or govt-run, to have a complaint box. It is hoped that in this way problems related to sexual or other kind of abuse will be addressed without delay. The GR states that at the end of each week, the complaint box must be opened in the presence of the Principal, parents, guardians, students’ representatives and a representative from the police station.
That this initiative started in Latur district, under the ‘Kanya Suraksha Kavach’ programme, is now being adopted all over the state, underlines the success of the programme.
Blog & photos: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team