May 16th, 2017
Last week, a 20-year old woman from Haryana’s Rohtak was brutally raped and murdered. Her body was so badly mutilated that even her parents could not recognise their daughter.
Incidentally, the rape happened a week after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death penalty of Jyoti Singh’s rapists and murders, and also ordered life imprisonment of 11 men accused in the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano.
Despite sexual violence inviting harsh punishments for perpetrators, they remain unafraid.
Since the last one week, more than 80 school girls and their family members in Haryana’s Dahena village, Rewari, are protesting against the constant harassment faced by the girls from local boys on their way to the senior secondary school located in a different village, about 2.5 km away from their village.
Thirteen of these girls have also gone on a hunger-strike, according to the village Sarpanch Suresh Chauhan.
A BBC India Facebook live shows the girls, their relatives, villagers and the Sarpanch sitting in on a dharna, demanding that the state government upgrades the village school to up to class XII.
Teased, harassed and molested every day
Omvati, one of the mothers in the protest said, “I do not feel like sending my daughters to school because they get harassed on the way. The boys keep lurking and sometimes pull their dupatta (scarves). I have denied my girls from going to school even though they want to study.”
“We don’t demand money from Modiji, only an upgraded school,” she added.
The girls had reportedly complained to the sarpanch who took the matter to the authorities, but to no avail, so they decided to take the matter into their own hands. On Friday, four of the girls had to be shifted to a hospital as their health deteriorated.
A student named Sujata can be seen in the video, saying, “The boys come on bikes wearing masks and pull our scarves from the back. On our way to the school, water pots are kept. They see us, break the pots and throw water on us. They have written down their mobile numbers on the walls. We cannot disclose everything to the media, but a lot of things happen.”
On the sixth day of the protest, Haryana education minister Ram Bilas Sharma announced that the Government High School in the village will now be upgraded from class X to Class XII.
However, one of the protesters named Pooja, who had completed her high school about three years ago said, “We want a written confirmation of the same from the Prime Minister as promises are always made, but hardly fulfilled. We want a guarantee.”
Questioning the government’s Beti Padho Bati Bachao campaign she added, “The girls walk in the heat for almost 3 km. When they reach a deserted path on their way, local boys pass comments. What is the point of Modiji’s Beti Padhao slogan when girls are not protected? Our demand for the school’s upgradation has been going on for 15 years, and in all this time, governments have come and gone, but nothing has happened.”
BSF jawan Tej Bahadur, who had recently been in the news for his dismissal from the army, was also a part of the protests. “I stay 30-40 km away from here and when I heard about the problems, I spoke to the Sarpanch. I cannot give you the details of what the girls face, but this is so shameful that they have to stage a hunger strike for their education,” he said.
The Logical Indian Take
Last year in the same district, girl students of two villages had quit going to school with similar problems after a girl was suspected to be raped on the way to school in another village.
Addressing the ongoing hunger strike, district education officer (DEO) Dharamvir Balodia said the girls were being ‘misled’ by the sarpanch and their parents. “There are certain norms that need to be fulfilled before a school is upgraded. The high school in their village has around 150 students. That is too less,” the DEO said.
Girls as young as 12-13 years are fighting to study. Their demand is simple – upgradation of the village school up to class XII so that they do have to walk 3 km every day and face harassment by local boys. It was convenient for the DEO to call the girls ‘misled’ because that takes away his responsibility to face the problem head-on.
We hear stories of sexual harassment every day. In many such cases, the perpetrators are harshly punished as well. Though punishment is necessary, we also have to accept that any form of sexual violence can only be curbed with education and awareness starting from the grassroot level. And this is what the girls are demanding – a chance to live as educated citizens of this country.
But the lack of empathy shown towards their plight is letting the harassers act with impunity. It isn’t the girls who are ‘misled’, but the boys who harass are. They are misled by the society’s acceptance of such behaviour. They are misled because their actions attract no punishment. They are misled because they are given the impression that men are the superior sex.
A change is only possible when boys, from a very young age, are educated about gender equality.
The Logical Indian urges the Haryana government and the central government to formally confirm the upgradation of the village school as the girls sitting on a strike for the past seven days belong in classrooms and not protest sheds.