“In rural India, girls are generally considered worthless. They are a liability or a burden”. This is what Ashweetha Shetty with a smile on her face said at TedWomen 2018. While the audience the Ted Talk in California were befuddled, but a thousand miles away, in India, girls watching the show on their TV’s understood what she meant. Ashweetha, who carried her story all the way from a small town called Mukkudal in Tamil Nadu to California to let people know what a girl faces in rural India.
While talking to The Logical Indians, she said, “I was considered as a liability in the family. To know my own stand and to contribute something to this world I understood that education is important.” The first time Ashweetha felt that education is crucial when she got to see her mother’s wage book. One day, her mother who is a beedi maker asked her to calculate what she had earned throughout the day. When Ashweetha was going through the book, she noticed at the end of every page her mother’s thumbprints instead of signatures. This revelation hit her hard, and she was slightly taken aback. She realised that if she can teach her mother, who has never been to school to write, then this might change her life. She taught her how to write her name. After several attempts when she finally succeeded in writing her name, Ashweetha saw that her mother’s face was beaming with pride. This made her grasp that she could be of some use to this world. “As I watched her do this for the first time in my life, I had a priceless feeling that I could be of some use to this world”. This feeling was extremely special for her. “All of us are born into a reality that we blindly accept — until something awakens us and a new world opens up,” Shetty says.
India progresses while patriarchy still lingers
While going down the memory lane she said that feeling important and useful is something girls in rural are bereft of. India is surely developing at a colossal rate with its booming ITs and rapid infrastructure. While major cities have accepted the capabilities and skillset of women, parts of rural India still have not climbed out of the valley of discrimination against women. Ashweetha questioning the patriarchal model of the society said that sadly the girls are only thought of as being good enough only to cook food or clean dishes.
A poor village girl
Ahweetha describes herself as “a poor village girl”. From a small age, circumstances made her believe that she could not expect something of her life and that her voice will not be listened to by anyone. Being a second daughter to her family she always heard narratives that she is unwanted. Throughout her childhood, while she used to roll beedies alongside her mother, she wondered what her future would be like. She would often ask her mother the same question, but the only answer that her mother could give was a bleak smile. Ashweetha understood that her mother never wanted to discourage her dreams, but she felt that her dreams were too big for a poor rural girl.
Hellen Keller became her inspiration
Ashweetha was always absorbed in education. When she was thirteen, she started reading autobiographies of people who faced hardship in their life but rose despite that. She was hooked to these autobiographies. “I used to go to our village library and tried to finish as many as I could. Their struggles made me realise that even I can get out of this boxed society someday”. The one person who inspired her the most was Hellen Keller. She admired her indomitable spirit. It was then when she wanted a college degree like her. “I had to fight with my father and my relatives to be sent to college.” It took her some time, but she finally convinced her family. She did BBA from a college in Nallur. She had to travel more than 1.5 hours on a bus as the college was in a different village.
Stepping outside the village to study was a game changer
“Marriage at an early age is something that we all girls are scared off. The fear of failing to pursue what I dreamt off throughout childhood really scared me,” she said when asked about what it felt to finish under graduation finally. She understood that she had to get out of the place or else her destiny will be decided by her parents. To get away from this, she applied for a fellowship program in Delhi. She used to take a junior’s phone to fill the form as she did not have access to a computer. She received a full scholarship for the one year program. Her sceptical parents finally understood the importance of the program and let her pursue. It was the first time that she not only stepped out of her state to study.
Finally got a glimpse of the world she longed for
However, discrimination never left her. She was the only person from the countryside sitting among other students who were from cities. When her course finished, she felt that she is no longer a liability or a burden to anyone. She finally got a glimpse of the world she longed for. After the programme, she worked in a primary health organisation. After working a year there, she returned to her village and founded a non-profit organisation called Bodhi Tree Foundation. She understood that youths from rural side require a bridge to help them achieve their dreams. The NGO provided this bridge. As of now, the NGO reaches out to around 2,400 rural graduates through its programs in Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu.
It is true that Ashweetha achieved what she dreamt of. Her longing for getting out of the “boxed society” happened, and now she is an independent hard working woman who has devoted her life for social welfare. When we asked any message to our readers, she said, “I believe in what Mahatama Gandhi said – The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
The Logical Indian Take
We salute Ashweetha for never giving up hope. Her struggle is an inspiration to all the youths staying in any part of the country. Her life story is an example to us all as it loudly says that one can achieve dreams even when everything falls off. We hope Ashweetha continues her noble work through The Bodhi Tree Foundation and keep encouraging us all.