Friday, May 20, 2011

Voices from the Subaltern - Chapter Four

Voices from the Subaltern

Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women

Moses Seenarine
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03

Chapter 4 - From Darkness to Light : Literacy Achievements and Changes Among Dalit Young Women

    In this chapter it is argued that Dalit young women’s resistance to obstacles in pursuing educational opportunities offered by MSK is part of their empowerment process which continues with their participation in the program. While it is true that there have been improvements in literacy among the twenty-eight young women enrolled at the all-day girls hostel or Kendra, their participation also entailed delay of marriage as well as other factors which are equally important for their empowerment as the education they receive.
    Even though the sample reflects a bias of young women from the Kendra, it does include students from nonformal education (NFE) classes held in the villages and their views concerning literacy were usually consistent among young women involved with the Kendra program. The young women were more interested in participating in the educational activities and were far more likely to have more prior experience with formal education, than older women in the sample. Nonetheless, dropout was a major problem among almost all the respondents, and many of the young women were nonliterate or neoliterate before entering MSK's NFE night classes or hostel program.
    Younger respondents especially expressed a connection between access to MSK educational programs and changes in their sense of self and personal identity. Almost all the young women teachers and students of the NFE classes and students of the Kendra said they had a more positive sense of who they are as a result of their new learning. Specific changes and aspects of personal empowerment among younger respondents are explored in this chapter, which is divided into three sections.
    The first section is further sub-divided into three parts. The first part explores some of the young women’s interests in learning, and the problems they face in obtaining access to formal education. The second part explores young women’s resistance to family and community in pursuing their education. Often women's involvement in MSK opened up the way for their daughter's involvement in educational activities, and mothers played a crucial role in deciding whether their daughters attended the Kendra or not. The third part deals with educational achievements among Dalit young women.
    The second section of the chapter examines the relationship between education and empowerment among students enrolled at the Kendra. Although involvement in learning at the all-day Kendra led to enhanced cognitive skills among most of them, their involvement in the process notably generated changes in social and emotional skills, self esteem, personal appearance, and communication skills, beyond the academic training they received at the Kendra. The young women also experienced changes in personal identities and career goals, many using Sahayoginis or MSK village supervisors, as a reference group.
    Finally, the third section of the chapter looks at young women’s views on gender roles in the family and community and some changes in regards to their views on gender roles in family and village, and education. In addition this part looks at collective empowerment as a result of participation in MSK programs. A short discussion of one Kendra student, Rachel, ends the chapter.

Interests and Problems in Learning Among Dalit Young Women
    Findings indicate that Dalit young women have a deep interest in learning, and they were likely to assert education as a right, that is, women had a right to education up to high school or college. Whereas many girls have an interest in learning, not many of them get an opportunity to do so.
    The young women involved with the MSK program in the district are special cases in that the vast majority of Dalit women in the district did not have access to the MSK programs, and so respondents' access to educational opportunities should not be viewed as typical for the majority of rural Dalit women who find it difficult to gain entry into formal and nonformal education systems. As we shall see, access to MSK programs presented a major decision to Dalit families, who have to decide between maintaining village customs or satisfying their daughter's wishes for education.
    By way of illustration, one Kendra student spells out the situation of Dalit females' lack of mobility and education in her village as follows:
There were five girls in my village who could not come (to the Kendra) because their parents did not allow them. They are completely illiterate, as they never went to school. So their parents would not allow them to come here, they want them to go to the fields and to do household work.
Almost all of the students of the Kendra note that they faced many difficulties in leaving their villages to attend the all-girls' hostel. One Sahayogini clarify the main problem,
The girls wanted to learn but the parents did not want to send them... the villagers don't want to send the grown up girls out of the village.
A twelve year old Kendra student, Godawari, illustrate some of the problems she confronts as a Dalit young woman,
In the village, people say that I am a grown up girl, so do not send me to school. People scolded me, but still I dared them and came here to school to learn and get an education.
    As Godawari informs us, the village people consider girls twelve years of age as grown ups, who were no longer in need of schooling. The close protection of young women partly stems from the Indian custom of early marriage for girls. While the general age of marriage is gradually increasing in India, the marriageability of females also depends upon their religion, family resources, class, and family considerations. Young women in this sense are a family resource, and a marriage with a "good”, economically better-off family is, from the parents' point of view, beneficial for females and for the families involved, and relieves the parents of the responsibility of guarding against the possible dishonour or loss of status that a young women’s “misbehaviour” could bring upon the family.
    Thus, it is not uncommon for Dalit young women in the District to be married while still in junior high or high school, which place them in the status of an adult in terms of their parents' culture. All of the young women in the sample are of marriageable age, that is, 12 and older, and most expect to have marriages arranged by their parents, having only the briefest acquaintance with their prospective husbands. Consequently, the young women in the sample spoke with varying degrees of resignation about marriage.
    Parents not only control the marriage of their daughters, but direct their educational futures as well. While all the young women wish to finish high school and continue their education, the purpose for some is to delay marriage, "get a good job”, or to be professionals. Notwithstanding, tension is created by the discrepancy of parents who must decide between marrying off their daughters first and letting the husband decide on further education for them, or holding off on marriage and encouraging their daughters to pursue educational and career opportunities. By demanding their right to education, the young women at the Kendra are constantly resisting parental and communal pressures to work as child labourers or to get married as adolescent brides.
    In the same way, nonformal education (NFE) night school teachers in the villages are resisting parental and communal pressures by convincing parents of out-of-school girls to send them to their homes where the classes are held. Parents did not send their daughters to the NFE classes because they have to walk too far to the school at night, and some young women dropped out of NFE and Kendra classes because of child marriages. One teacher, Laxmiamma, explain,
We used to go to their house to call them but they never used to come. Then we said, "come, we'll teach songs and rhymes”, then they came.
    Laxmiamma tell us that the children will be so tired from working all day in the fields, doing housework, and attending to cattle, that they are reluctant to go to NFE evening class and sometimes fall asleep in class. She uses her voice to entertain the girls in songs and rhymes to encourage them to attend and stay awake during night school. In addition, there is a limited amount of learning materials available at teachers' homes to make learning fun, as the program do not provide NFE and AE teachers with any handouts, instructional aids, or other learning materials for students.
    Similarily, one Sahayogini spells out the difficult time they have trying to persuade parents and guardians to send young women to the Kendra:
It took three months to convince them because the girls wanted to learn, but the parents did not want to send them. We tried many things. We talked to them, we told them, "only women teachers are there and this is a women's organisation, so send your daughters. Nothing will happen to her”. Then we called the parents and we had a discussion in the school, and they all agreed. Then they sent the girls to the school.
    This Sahayogini points out that even though MSK had been working in the villages for four years, parents were not convinced to send their daughters to the Kendra until after they visited the school. Shantama, an 18 year old student of the Kendra, recalls why she did not attend the public school in her village:
I did not have the time. When everybody in the village is learning and my younger brothers and sisters are not learning, I feel like educating them. But my father, sister, four of them in all, go to the factory, so the others have to stay and take care of the animals.
Despite not having the time, Shantama was still interested in learning. One Sahayogini, Chandana, remembers that she came to know of Shantama in the village as someone who was nonliterate yet had a keen interest in learning. Chandana explain Shantama's story:
Her brother is educated. She told us she wanted to learn equal to him. One year difference they are. She used to quarrel with the mother, saying, "to your son, you want to educate, but to me, you want to take to the fields. Why is there this difference?" Shantama never went to school, but her brother taught her at home. She was eager to learn.
    As Chandana attests, within poor Dalit families, boys are given preference in education over girls. Despite lack of access to formal avenues of learning, Shantama's example illustrates that Dalit young women are aware of this preference towards their brothers, and are resolved to learn. Shantama's determination and eagerness to learn are proof of her agency; and these issues are related to her personal, social and gender empowerment.

Resisting Family and Community
    Most of students at the Kendra have some female relative involved with the MSK program, either in the Sanghas, AE and NFE classes, or some other training program. Neelavati, whose mother is involved with the village Sangha, accounts how her mother help to convinced her father to send her to the Kendra,
My mother came to the first meeting for parents here and she told my father, "this is good, we should send her”.
Another student, Shakuntala, recites:
People used to say, "why you are sending your daughter to school there?" Mother said, "in the future, will they (people) feed you or us? Only if you are educated you can feed yourself, so don't listen to the people”.
From a feminist perspective, the statements made by Shakuntala's mother reveal a level of gender awareness typical of many women involved with MSK. Her determination in choosing to educate her daughter is in the interest of their survival, and against the "interest" of her community. This is indicative of the mother's own gender empowerment. Shakuntala's mother recognises that even if she obeys her community's restraints against educating young women, the community may not necessarily take care of her or her family in case of need. She advises her daughter to ignore community pressures and to pursue her independence.
    Fifteen-year old Jasmine, who dropped out of school after the third class to become a baby sitter and domestic worker, spells out how she became involved with the MSK program as an adult education (AE) student, AE night school teacher, and Kendra student by talking to the MSK district program co-ordinator (DPC):
My sister used to go to the government school in the village. She was in seventh standard and she used to teach me at night. Then three years back, I found out that there was a Mahila Samakhya Sangha in the village. When I learned some more alphabets and some other things, I became interested to teach some of the older women in the village who did not know to read and write, like myself. By seeing my interest in teaching the adult women in the village, the Sahayoginis saw that I was not able to teach them properly because I did not know myself. So they agreed to give me training along with the others from other villages. I used to come for eight days every month to get training. I was still working as a teacher in the MSK night school. After I received the training, I asked the DPC to let me enter into the MSK school here and he agreed. But since I left to come to the Kendra, no one is teaching there now.
    By seeing the women learning in the Sangha in her village, Jasmine became keen to pursue an education, which persuaded her to become involved with the MSK Sangha women. Her statements indicate that she improved her literacy skills from being a nonliterate to being a neoliterate, which led to her becoming interested in learning and teaching others. The MSK program staff recognised her strong interest in educating other Dalit women and provided her with AE teacher-training. Training and employment as a AE teacher has induced changes in her sense of her abilities, and reinforced her interest in pursuing further learning.
    Employment as educated workers have led to an increase in many young women’s interest to learn more and in their self confidence. Several respondents pronounce changes in themselves as a direct result of learning and teaching at NFE night school. Many NFE teachers are Dalit women, and this means that they serve as role models for Dalit girls and boys who otherwise have little contact with Dalit teachers in the village context. Women Dalit roles models act as an important factor in motivating village students to attend or not attend night classes. To illustrate, Laxmiamma was asked, "why do students come for learning at the NFE class?" to which she retorts,
They want to become like us. They see the way we are, educated people, and they want to get their education so that they can get some job and not have to only work in the fields.
Concerning her students' progress, Laxmiamma admit,
We are just teaching them and we don't give them any certificates. However, they were completely illiterate and some students are now reading seventh standard books.
    Literacy training did help respondents to overcome some of the negative issues related to being nonliterate such as shame and low self worth. MSK educational programs were permitting female students of all ages to learn and understand at their own pace. This learning led to personal changes in many young women, for instance in gaining confidence to speak. Many respondents are proud to say, "I have learnt more”, or "I learned to sign my name" or "now I can read and write”. These statements reveal that Dalit women are learning "something" which made them feel better about themselves. As an example, Rachel explains what she found the most useful in her learning at the Kendra:
That writing is thinking power. Through writing poems, I became courageous. Before I was unable to read and I was not able to go anywhere. Now I can go to any village.

Educational Achievement Among Dalit Young Women
    There has been improvement in several class levels among the 33 respondents involved in the MSK program, especially among the young women whose formal learning increased from the three to fourth class level, to the seven and eight class level. Of the eight respondents who were nonliterate, three are students of the Kendra and are learning either at the seventh class or tenth class level. Th other five are older women who remain nonliterate, however some have learned to sign their names.
    Of the twenty-five rspondents who attended public school prior to MSK, now classes seven to eight is the most common level among them with 12 students in this category. None of the rspondents are presently at class levels 1-2, and the number of females in class levels 3-4 decreased by fifty percent, from 12 to six. Improvement in class level also occurred among respondents performing at the classes 7-8 level, as the number in this category doubled from 6 to 12.
    Correspondingly, the number of respondents performing at classes 9-10 level doubled from three to six, while the number of students at the 11-12 classes level increased by one, from two to three students. On average, young women with or without prior schooling have all doubled their academic learning after two years of learning in the intensive, all-day program at the hostel. In spite of this, delay of marriage as well as other issues are equally important in their empowerment.

Learning at the Kendra
    Among all of MSK's nonformal educational activities, the most comprehensive, in-depth and detailed curriculum and teaching occurred at the two-year Kendra program. The Kendra's all-day classes provides a few Dalit young women the crucial opportunity for furthering their learning beyond the limited, literacy-based AE and NFE curriculum. Although this study did not focus on a comparison between formal and nonformal systems of learning, nevertheless, many of the Kendra students made comments regarding a difference in the nature of learning processes which take place in these two systems. For instance, when asked, "what do you find most useful in your learning?" eighteen year old Anthonamma, a senior student at the Kendra, replies:
The special thing we learned from this program is education and power to understand. For example, when we have debates on some subject, first we think of the subject and then we talk. Here, the teaching is different. Until we understand, the teachers will teach. In the regular school, they never did that. Here, we use hands-on learning materials like stones in mathematics, etc. This helps us to understand better.
    Anthonamma went to school up to seventh class and was an AE night school teacher for two years before joining the Kendra. She speaks of some of the important differences between the formal learning which is conducted at the "regular " government primary school, and nonformal learning which take place at the Kendra, such as hands-on materials, time for analysing and discussing curriculum, and so on. In like fashion, when asked the question, "what do you find most useful in your learning?" one of the youngest student at the Kendra answers:
The education. In the government school, the teachers used to come and teach us, but they never explained to us good. Here at the MSK school, the teachers would explain to us and make us to understand the subject.
In the same way, Akkava, a fourteen year old, remark:
When I went to the government school, they did not teach us properly. They just promoted us to the higher classes. Now I can read and write properly, do multiplication, division, etc... Now we have an opportunity to learn, so I don't want to lose this opportunity, like by going home too often, etc. Through education, I came to know about knowledge and games and I have respect for words and education.
Akkava explains further,
In the government school, they would teach us periodically, because they want to complete the syllabus. Here, they give us a lot of time and will not move on until we understand.
    Getting the right answers and positive feedback from teacher concerning cognitive learning also leads to greater self-esteem among many of the students, for example, Jasmine attests:
I learned mathematics. I did it and verified it, whether it is correct. If it is correct, I feel happy. In this way I learned to live a different life. I feel confident now.
Cognitive Skills
    In response to the question, "what have you learned at the Kendra/NFE class?" Kendra students usually refer to literacy skills like learning to read and write; communication skills such as speaking; and vocational skills like tailoring. They often mention the academic subjects taught at the Kendra: Kannada, Hindi, English, social studies, mathematics, and science. So too are the non-academic subjects: sports, games, culture, drama, dance, stick dance, songs, story-telling, and drawing.
    There are no significant variances in terms of students' preference for academic, vocational or non-academic subjects, as all three are frequently spoken of. Students understand the importance of learning academic subjects in order to pass standardised exams, they recognise the relevance of vocational training to their future employment prospects, and they enjoy learning stick dance and other cultural knowledge on their own. In terms of academic and vocational subjects, several students specify that they would like typing and computers to be included in the program, and in terms of non-academic subjects, a few expressed a preference for music classes to be added.
    Students at the Kendra, in response to the question, "what have you learned at the Kendra/NFE class?" note that they learned discipline, courage and understanding. The frequency of these responses suggest that affective or emotional understanding are connected to cognitive learning among students, and that discipline in work and dress, courage in speaking, and understanding of their own power, are all related to changes in self identity and personal empowerment.

Learning Beyond the Kendra
    Besides learning academic and affective skills at the Kendra, Dalit young women are able to change and empower themselves through the process of participation in the all-day boarding school. From learning social and emotional skills, to improvements in self esteem, personal appearance and communication skills, students are able to develop a different sense of who they are. To cite an instance, Shantama, who never attended school, admits, "before, I felt stupid. Now I am learning and so feel better about myself”. Similarly, Tayamma is now proud to say, "I am educated”.
    Another former, nonliterate young woman explains, "Now I have become intelligent. Now little things we are observing”. This last respondent suggests that literacy skills and understanding have led to a more keen awareness of her environment, and this awareness itself is related to her intelligence. The feeling that she is capable of learning is a powerful factor in countering the mainstream myth of the nonliterate as "incapable of learning”.
    The study's findings disclose that increased literacy skills is related to positive self identity among most of the previously nonliterate and neoliterate respondents, and likewise to some of them having a more positive outlook of the future. To illustrate, Mayawati says, "we learned that we can get an education, and in this way we got changes. I feel confident now and I feel more hopeful about my future”. And Sangeeta claim, "I feel I should do well and learn. I want to keep up my name always”.
    Early marriage is a major factor in preventing girls from furthering their education and students are able to delay marriage as a result of attending the Kendra, as almost all of them are unmarried, which is unusual as the vast majority of their friends are married and out of school. One Kendra student admits that she was married but is now separated, which allows her to attend the Kendra.
    According to the teachers, all of the studnets who dropped out of the Kendra did so to get married, so attending the Kendra means delay of marriage for many of the young women, in addition to getting an education. Paradoxically, delay of marriage and education for Dalit young women may lead to lower population growth among Dalits in general, however this outcome likewise depends upon their employment opportunities and socio-economic status.
    At the Kendra, 28 young women are living together in a three bedroom bungalow, so learning social skills becomes a necessary part of every day life in the school. In order to maintain a positive environment for learning and living together, the students have to develop communication and co-operation skills, which lead to changes in self worth and self confidence among them. One teacher describe a little of how this process takes place in one young woman, Jasmine:
Jasmine is very poor in her house. Her father died... her elder sister's husband ran away after marriage... First, she was not too comfortable with these girls. Now she is adjusting. First, she used to cry if anybody tells her a hard word. If they make jokes with her, she would get hurt... She won't fight with others and she would not get angry. She'll live happily with others (now). She is co-operating with all the other students.
    Even though she was an AE teacher in her village, Jasmine had limited experience with formal schooling and lacked experience of living in a girls' hostel. Her development of social and emotional skills have led to new options in her social life, as well as personal expression. The teacher remarks on Jasmine's improvement at the Kendra,
She is good in understanding. She would not understand very soon, but when she understands everything, she will do perfect work. She is good in sewing and she has talent in drawing. If she gets the support, she can become a big artist. She makes nice drawings.
These statements present Jasmine as a thoughtful student whose potential identities include those of artist and tailor.
    The MSK program conducted several training and workshops on women's bodies and health which many of the respondents attended. Many young women at the Kendra admit that they learned how to dress and take care of their personal appearance at the hostel as personal grooming habits are taught by the Kendra teachers as part of the "informal" curriculum. Students are expected to adopt habits such as combing their hair and wearing clean, neat clothes daily.
    In addition to being learned, personal grooming practices are related to environmental and material resources as well. Several students note that in the drought-prone district, at the Kendra "there is not problem with water”. Participant observation disclose that washing soap is available for the young women to use at the Kendra, though rationed. As a consequence, the washing of clothes and personal grooming does not present the serious challenges students normally encounter in their villages in terms of lack of access to water, soap, and buckets. Personal appearance is in addition related to economic issues. For instance, when asked, "what kinds of arguments did you have with your parents?" Rekha  replies,
Arguments over clothes, bangles, chappals (slippers), etc. I used to see my friends' bangles and clothes and ask my father to buy them for me.
    Another way in which education may be related to personal appearance, is that of greater understanding leading to greater self esteem, which is reflected in more attention paid to personal appearance. By way of illustration, in answer to the question, "what difference has what you are learning made in your life?" Akkava, answer:
Through education, I learnt about my life. After learning literacy, my life has been changed. I can understand. When I was uneducated, it was very difficult for me to understand. Now, the way I wear clothes is changed. I am wearing clean clothes, etc. I feel more confident and strong.
    Learning about health contributed to respondents giving importance to cleanliness, and teaching others about these issues. Sharing such knowledge leads to increased respect among other women in the village. As an example, Rachel explains,
Whenever I go to the village, I tell the people about cleanliness, to clean the child mess quickly so that the flies will not go there, etc. The people say, "Rachel, you went to Bidar town and learned lots of things and now you are teaching others; it is good”.
    When asked, "what kinds of discipline are there in this school?" Akkava replies, "the way to sit proper, the way to talk”. Another Kendra student account,
I am learning discipline here. Discipline to study. In the village school, we used to go all over and not study. But here, we are studying in the school only, and studying hard.
This student indicates that the environment of the Kendra is much more conducive to studying, in contrast to the distractions present in the village community. Correspondingly, she may be suggesting that it is easier to maintain the "discipline" of being a student when others are doing the same, that is, "studying hard”.
    In answer to the same question, Shakuntala responds,
There are times for meals, to study, etc. We have to do those things. We have to follow the time strictly. When we disobey, all the girls sit together and discuss why the one has disobeyed, what is the reason? So, this way, we solve our problems. The girls all sit together and have a meeting once a month for one to two hours.
In these statements, Shakuntala makes known the students' meetings to discuss and solve discipline and other problems at the Kendra.
    The group at the Kendra had a lot of practice with communication activities such as reading aloud and discussion in class, singing, acting, speaking in meetings, and so forth. To illustrate, in answer to the question, "what difference has what you are learning made in your life?" Shakuntala replies,
I am changed in all areas. I improved in my studying. Now I have the courage to talk in the meetings. I can speak and lecture. The teacher told me that I should not be afraid of anything.
Correspondingly, Hoovama replies: "First, when we came here, we were worried to speak. Now I can talk”. And Sangeeta observes:
After learning and joining the Kendra, I improved my language problem. Now I can count rupees and do total. Many things and difference has come in my life because of learning. In our village we have water problem and here there is no water problem with the water.
    Many of the respondents express a view on new social mobility and the ability to travel independently outside of the village. Importantly, most of the young women from the Kendra could travel back and forth freely to their villages for festivals, ceremonies, and holidays, without their parents accompanying them. A few admit their desire to travel to other cities.

Asserting Education as a Right
    The respondents are influenced differently by the variation in observance of family, social and cultural practices, yet they are all rejecting mere acquiescence to culture and tradition, in one form or another. They are struggling to understand and name the relations of power in the local context, and to open spaces where they can be free. For instance, there are many forms of economic, social, cultural, legal and political literacies which are denied to rural Dalit females. Literacies are indices of the dynamics of power, and poor Dalit women are daily made aware of this fact.
    In response to some of these issues, respondents, especially the Kendra students, struggle to open spaces and gain access to literacies for themselves and others. Many respondents feel that education is a right of all people, regardless of caste or gender. By way of illustration, one twelve-year girl affirms, "education is needed for every man and every woman to know how to read and write”. Another young woman, Sangeeta, profess:
Being in the Kendra, only then we learned. But being in the village I could not have learnt anything. We could not have improved. Here, we have many facilities of education. NFE is good for this... also in the villages. Every village should have their rights in education. Only with education we can become anything.
    Time is an important factor in learning, as well as in students' desire for further learning. For example, when asked the question, "what would you like to be changed in the present educational program?" many of the Kendra students reply, in the words of Mayawati, "they should teach us for a longer period of time, say four or five years”. As suggested by this remark, many of the students wanted to learn beyond the curriculum and time frame provided by the Kendra program.
    Regarding the benefits of learning, one young woman, Rekha note,
I want to learn my education, so that whatever problems come, I will have the capacity to solve it.
In the same way, another student, Godawari claim:
Without education, we are under somebody. We would be working like slaves. We have to listen to whatever they say. If we are educated we will not be under somebody and will not have to depend on others. If we have education we can do anything.
Godawari observes that education is linked to independence and empowerment among the nonliterate and uneducated.

Personal Identities and Career Goals
    Educational access presented new options for learning and work for Dalit young women. To cite an instance, when asked the question, "what hopes do you have in regards to this educational program?" Mayawati explain,
Only work I used to do in the village, but I was very much interested in learning. I want to read and write so I can stand on my own feet.
As another example, eighteen year old Shantama admit that through education, "I became ambitious... I am thinking of applying for a government job. I want to go to college, but my mother will not allow me to go”. Yet another student replies,
I want to learn and become something else in the future. I want to teach others... My aim is to teach those who put their thump impressions now.
One other student admit,
I would like to become a social worker and to improve my village by teaching.
    Exposure to various functionaries of the MSK program have a rippling effect throughout the rural communities involved with the program. Dalit girls and women see new role models for themselves in the Dalit women volunteers and staff of the program: Crèche, AE and NFE teachers, Sahayoginis, Kendra teacher, Sangha leaders, and herbal specialists. For instance, many of the young women expressed aspirations of becoming teachers. Rachel, whose father and uncle are tailors, express her hopes for the future, "now I want to open a tailoring institute and work there as a teacher”. Many of the educated young women involved with the program also expressed a desire to gain employment as a Sahayogini within the program.
    As a result of their access to formal learning at the Kendra, several of the students, similar to male counterparts who receive formal schooling, no longer consider coolie work as a viable employment option. This change in self identity means that these young women now see themselves as capable of being more than just a day-to-day labourer, working in the fields. By way of illustration, when asked the question, "what do you think your life would be like when you return to the village after this school?" Mayawati, who had only been at the Kendra for only two months, reply,
There would be changes. I will not go to the fields. I will teach. If the Sangha women want me to be involved in the Sangha, then I will be like that... I want to have some small-scale cottage industry in the village like making candles, etc. Then, instead of going to the fields for work, the women can work in the cottage industry. I want to learn more about how to do this.
    Young respondents feel that there more employment options available to them. Common statements among the young women include, "through education, we can become anything”, and "education can help to get job”. Although typing or computer training are not included as part of MSK Kendra activities, many respondents feel confident in their ability to perform clerical and other forms of government jobs. The young women likewise have aspirations of going to college and becoming professionals; for instance, Anthonamma says:
After learning, I want to find some job, whatever I can get, and get married. I want to be a doctor, and I want to return to my village and do social work. I feel that I can become a doctor. I may be able to get a scholarship.
    Exposure to professionals also provide role models for the young women, which lead to a changes in self identity and choice of formal occupations. To cite an instance, when asked, "what hopes do you have in regards to your participation in MSK educational training?" one fourteen year old Kendra student retort:
After learning I want to become a police. I have my mind set on it, to be a police. I decided on this only after coming to this school. A police lady came here to the school, and after seeing her, I decided that it was what I wanted to do. Before, I did not know what to do.

Young Women’s Views on Gender Roles in Family and Village
    In response to the question, "what do you think the roles of a female in your family and village should be?" fourteen year old Akkava, respond:
In my opinion, one woman means an eye in the family. At present, women are like a pearl. At present, women should learn more to work for the nation. They should fight for equality and women's rights. They should not be any high or low gender...
    Asked whether she will consent to her daughter playing, Akkava answers,
I will not scold my daughter, I will allow her to play.
In response to the above question, an NFE teacher argue,
In my thinking, women had no chance to come out. But when the Mahila Samakhya Sangha came, the females learned many things. In everything they were changed.
    Concerning wage work in the fields, Mayawati complain, "the sun was too hot and the money too low”. Neelavati describes the situation:
In the village, all women are working in the sun. When they ask for money with their hands to their field owners, sometimes they give, sometimes they will not. Females should not ask for money. Women should live on their own feet by learning. Whenever I think of village women I feel pity on them.
Neelavati shows awareness and compassion for village women; she feels that Dalit women should not have to beg for their pay, and that they can become independent by learning.
    When asked, "what is your vision of female improvement in the village?" one NFE teacher, replies,
Girls from ten to eighteen years are in the class. I am teaching them knitting, embroidery, tailoring, and so on, so that they would not have to go to the fields. They can stay and work at home. We cannot tell them not to go to the fields. Now we are informing them about education, etc., so we are making a start. If they don't go to the fields, they will not be able to eat. Through education, I hope that the girls who come will be able to lead a better life.
From her response, this teacher concludes gender empowerment in her village is related to the socio-economic empowerment of Dalit women. As such, she places importance on the material condition of Dalit girls, who must perform hard labour in the fields or "they will not be able to eat”. Although the vocational skills she teaches reinforces gender roles, she is trying to provide rural Dalit young women with an employment option besides field labour. She continues,
Their parents are telling us that their daughters are able to read and "you should continue to teach them. I feel that I can teach them up to tenth standard, and after that, they can do anything they want. If they want to learn more, they can go to college, they can get some diploma course, get a good job, get loans for self-employment, and so on.
    Comparable views are held by most of the NFE, AE, Kendra and crèche teachers and Sahayoginis. For example, Tulsama, a crèche teacher, explain how the Dalit women of her village feel about the crèche,
In the village, the have thanked the Sangha that MSK has come and are helping us. In the village, the boys and girls did not go to school. Then we started the crèche, and afterwards, the AE and NFE night schools. In the beginning, the boys used to herd the cattle and the girls used to go for weeding. Now the people are selling their cattle and the children are going to the NFE school. Some of the older boys are coming to the towns to go to hostel schools. The girls are being allowed to finish sixth to eight standard.
As Tulsama suggest, at one level, the programs' staff and funding efforts is helping Dalit women to gain access to educational opportunities in a situation in which they have very limited access. These efforts are rightfully appreciated by Dalit women in the village.
    However, at another level, the program is also helping to maintain and reinforce existing differences in educational attainment between Dalit girls and boys. A case in point, as noted above, young women are being allowed to finish sixth to eight standard, but only boys are being sent out of the village to finish high school.
    Furthermore, Tulsama's statements indicate a trend towards selling-off of economic assets, like domestic animals, among Dalit families for two reasons: (i) in order to free children to pursue their education, and (ii) in hope of expected economic returns from their children's employment in the formal economy. Nonetheless, there are already high levels of rural educated unemployment and underemployment, and the loss of the meagre income from the care and sale of domestic animals is likely to lead to even more economic insecurity among poor, rural Dalit families.
    The fact that 28 young women are enrolled in the Kendra means that their mothers, fathers, and guardians value female education over early marriage. Many of the students’ mothers and aunts were already involved with the MSK women's village collective and/or savings programs before they became enrolled in the Kendra. This agrees with the literature which shows that some mothers are determined to educate their daughters.

Gender Awareness and Empowerment
    From a feminist perspective, with issues regarding access to educational programs and training through the MSK program, many of the respondents are empowered in terms of gender, especially the younger women. Older women's empowerment have less to do with education and more with the opportunity for mobilising around caste, class and gender issues. Almost all respondents claim women should be educated and should know and understand society. Many are committed, in the words of one young woman, to "teach those who are uneducated in the village, who were like us (the way we were)”, or in the words of another, "do social work in the village”. As feminist and Dalit activists, many respondents are eager to "serve the women”, and "serve the people”.
    Many of the young respondents express an opinion on the gender awareness aspect of program activities. To cite an instance, even though Jharemma went the school up to seventh class, she explains that learning was different from MSK activities, and in response to the question, "what difference has what you are learning at the Kendra made in your life?" she responds:
From this education, it was like coming out of a dark room to light. Illiteracy means darkness and literacy means light. Now I have no fear to talk to anybody. I feel more hopeful of my future now.
Here, Jharemma is using the concept of "illiteracy/literacy" to not only refer to reading and writing skills, but most importantly, to gender empowerment and the confidence "to talk to anybody”. Likewise, Laxmiamma describes how the NFE training program helped her as follows,
It has helped me to know about education, family, society and politics. We got good advice and information. I got the courage to meet different officials and face them to talk about our work.
    Regarding equality of the sexes, one young women assert, "I am equal to men”, and  another commented, "from girls, only the world is”. Many respondents feel, in the words of one woman, "our lives has come to new life - women's strength”. One girl claim, "girls manage everything in the house”, and one Sahayogini declares, "we gain strength from growing  with the women. We grow as they grow”.
    Most all respondents agree that a woman should be independent of her husband and in-laws; live separate from her in-laws; and "do something on her own" in terms of employment. Many young women declare that they will "do marriage to someone who does not take dowry”. In addition, many respondents understand that collective resistance can lead to female empowerment from subordination by men, for instance, one young woman define, "unity means we can fight them as women”.
    When queried about their daughters, many of the older women feel a "daughter should settle her own faith; she should be independent”. Several mothers express that they treated their daughters and sons equally. Mindful of the punishments they received as girls, many of the young women are resolved not to scold their own daughters.

Rachel - A Case Study
    Rachel is 15 years, a Christian Dalit, and the eldest of three children. As her parents are migrant labourers in a distant city, she lives with a maternal uncle. Before that, she lived with paternal grandparents who took her out of primary school after three years. She describes how she got separated from her family as follows:
Five to six years back, there was a quarrel between my father's relatives in my village and my father, mother and younger brothers all moved to the city. I lived with them for two years then came back to stay with my grandparents in the village.
For the purpose of maintaining her mother tongue of Kannada, Rachel was sent back to live with her relatives in her paternal village. However, living with her grandparents was difficult as Rachel accounts:
Since childhood, I grew up with my paternal grandparents. There I used to go to the school. So whenever I wanted to play with others, sometimes my grandmother used to scold me. She used to say, "you are a growing girl, why do you want to play? Go and do the housework”. ...My uncle's daughter used to ill-treat me. Sometimes she never gave me enough roti to eat... When father comes once in a year, then I was treated well in front of him, and when he leaves than the same thing was done to me. If I wanted to say anything against them to my father when he came, after his return they used to beat me. So I used to be quiet.
Rachel describes various patterns of neglect, abuse and violence she endured as a girl child. Although she used to go to school, her time was occupied with domestic production as well as formal production as a child labourer, as she illustrates:
I went to cut the sugar cane in the field. Since I was eight or nine years old, with my age friends, I used to go to the field to work for my pocket money. With that money I used to buy my earrings, wristbands, and so on. ...During the harvest, I used to go to work in the paddy field. I used to get one kilogram of paddy each day as earnings. During the sugar harvest, I used to clean the cut cane plant for ten rupees a day.
    Rachel's value as a child worker earning her own pocket money and food for the extended family was deemed more important than her schooling as the Sahayogini who recruited her to join MSK program observes:
It was difficult for me to convince the grandparents because Rachel's parents were away. And they were taking Rachel to the fields for work. When I asked them to put her in school they said, "she is a grown girl, so why do you want to take her? If anything happens to her who is responsible. She should not go to school. There will be no school for her”.
Schooling was not as important as work and language in decisions made for Rachel. Her maternal uncle rationalises the importance of her future marriage with respect to both family's decision to keep Rachel in Karnataka:
There with her parents she was studying Telugu. We are Kannada speaking people and so she will have problems here. I don't want her to learn Telugu. If she wants to marry we will find only Kannada people, not Telugu people. So they made her stay at her paternal uncle's house for three, four years. But they were never willing to take her for a longer time. They never used to feed her properly. So I agreed to help her and put her in school, what ever she needs. Now, only I take care of her.
It was only through living with her maternal uncle that allowed Rachel to attend the MSK school, which points out the importance of male kin in the lives of girls like her. Even though her father was not around, patriarchy still determined her life changes.
    With respect to her life as a drop-out, Rachel characterise her existence during this period as follows:
I had to wear sari and stay inside the four walls of my grandparents' home and never go out. I would cry for my fate in life. If anybody used to tell me anything I used to just cry. I could not do anything to them.
As Rachel depicts, the life of a rural Dalit female is restricted in many ways. Her life and choices are circumscribed by cultural and patriarchal ideologies which govern her access to education, social and other resources, mobility within the village, and so on. These oppressive ideologies take a toll on the psyche of young and older women who become very depressed, powerless and hopeless.
    From a feminist perspective, literacy has had a positive influence in Rachel's life. When asked how her life has changed as a result of literacy, Rachel answers:
Now I can read something if I get bored. I don't have to wear a sari, I can wear a longer blouse.
A careful reading of the above statement will reveal that Rachel is empowered by literacy as is now questioning the construction of gender roles. In the boredom within `the four walls of the home,' the mere ability to read is itself a form of personal empowerment. Further, as she explains, in a culture in which wearing a sari is a form of purdah and part of female seclusion, Rachel is symbolically and overtly rejecting traditional female roles ascribed to her, in choosing to wear a longer blouse.
    Although she may not like the school environment very much, as her teacher explains, Rachel nevertheless values education and realises its importance in village society. In describing the social and economic context of Dalits in her village Rachel explains:
In my village there are Gowdas (caste Hindu landlords). They have used the people because they are illiterate and do not know better. By learning to read and write they (Dalits) will not be deceived... I can count now, so if I am paid less than I should receive, I can tell them to pay me correctly.
At some level of political awareness, Rachel expresses a critical view of power relations in the village, comprising of caste, class and educational factors. She names the main oppressors of Dalits in her village as Gowdas from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) Vokkaliga community. Moreover, in her mind, caste and economic exploitation are clearly connected to educational disadvantage.
    Rachel explains that OBC landowners have used the landless Dalit labourers who are trapped in ignorance due to nonliteracy. As a result of her analysis, Rachel views literacy as a tool of resistance for both personal and economic empowerment. A case in point, now that she can count, she makes sure that the Gowdas pay her the correct wage. She explains her feelings of empowerment further:
Before I was unable to read and I was not able to go anywhere. Now I can go to any village... I am confident to go and confront the Gowdas now.
Concerning her interests in further learning, Rachel commented,
I would like to know the law about the lands and fields, how to go to the courts, the police, and so on.
An important issue for Rachel is land rights, because the reason why her father had a dispute with his male kin and left the village was over ancestral land. Rachel understands the importance of learning mainstream tools, such as legal literacy, in order to deal with mainstream society, the courts and police, on these issues.

    This chapter explores some of the family and community pressures confronting rural Dalit young women and various forms of responses they make to pursue their education and empowerment. Younger respondents who have access to more educational opportunity through enrolment at the MSK Kendra, demonstrates more educational achievement than others in NFE and AE programs. These full-time students correspondingly express more awareness of gender oppressions and self-determination to resist these injustices. This finding tentatively links increased education to increased empowerment, however much more needs to be learned about both these two issues in order to fully understand this linkage.
    Both the Kendra and NFE programs serve as safe spaces for Dalit young women to learn, free of gender and caste discrimination. Increased literacy and sewing skills learned by young women are viewed as possible avenues of escape from the uncertain availability of hard labour in the fields at starvation wages. Still, even among the most confident young women hopes are tempered by concerns over future employment, given the huge rates of unemployment and gender discrimination.
    Younger respondents are aware that most of the teaching opportunities available would be voluntary and unpaid work, and may offer little economic rewards. Yet the young women felt that there are important social rewards to be gained by teaching in their villages. In addition, young women view education and teaching for other purposes, such as a strategy to avoid and delay early marriage, and to pursue caste empowerment.

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