A group of 272 women dropouts between 16-40 years cleared their Class X exams on June 9. The odds stacked against them were many: age, societal pressure, financial constraints and personal tribulations. But they could not deter these women from the rural areas in north Gujarat and Saurashtra regions, all school dropouts from Kadi, Dholka, Mehsana and Gondal.
These women are not only inspiration to women like them, but they have also sent across a message to parents who prefer their daughters to drop out of school either to get married or take care of household chores.
“I realised that only education can bring an end to our sufferings. As my husband is mentally unstable, I have to run the house with my papad making business. Even my son’s education is supported by my parents. I had to quit education as there was nobody to work at home and look after a family of seven members,” shared Harshaba Gohil, 39, from Gondal who quit her school after clearing Class IV 20 years back. She cleared Class X with 51.33 per cent. Her son would be appearing for the same exam this year.
With the help of Pratham Open School Education (POSE)-second chance programme, run by NGO Pratham in nine states, 279 women appeared for Class X examination under National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) of whom 272 cleared, recording a pass percentage of 97.49 per cent.
“These women are an inspiration for all of us. Every woman has her own story of hardships and how she overcame these. Once they realised that only education can make them self-reliant, there was no looking back,” said Renu Seth, the country head of POSE-second chance programme.
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Married at an age of 17, Almasben Tank, 35, also from Gondal, cleared Class X with 58.67 per cent. Due to early marriage, she had to leave her schooling after Class VIII in 1996. Currently working as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker, she decided to continue her education after she saw younger girls study. Not deterred with the gap of two years between Class VIII and IX, she cleared the exam in her first attempt.
“My husband is a newspaper vendor. Since I had not completed my secondary education, I could not apply for many programmes and schemes. My husband encouraged me to start studying again and my two children supported and helped in studies,” says Almasben.
At 24, Gangaben Dhudabhai Meer has seen a lot of hardships in life. She was married at the age of 14 to an abusive husband. Her parents refused to help her when she was thrown out of her house. She was taken up by her paternal uncle. She has tears in her eyes when she talks about her three-year-old son whom she had to let go in the separation process. But determined to complete her education and be in a financially stable to fight for the child’s custody, it was her aunt who convinced her to sign up for the POSE programme and continue her education. “I would like to continue my education even further after Class XII,” said Ganga, who has secured 59 per cent in her secondary exams.
Chetnaben Gandabhai Rabari, 30, who comes from Kadi, was the eldest student in her class. Three of her siblings, including her younger sister and brother, were also a part of the same programme. She had studied up to Class V and had to stop going to school because of the responsibilities of her five siblings. Her mother is a housewife and her father does cattle-rearing and animal husbandry.
Chetnaben stopped schooling in 2002. She had to practise and study more than her other classmates because of the long gap of 13 years. While she struggled with her speed of writing, she had a good grip over mathematics. Like many of her classmates, English was the toughest subject for her.
Even after her marriage, Chetna continued her studies. She has the dream to continue her studies after Class X. This will be possible if elders in the family give the permission, she says.