August 16, 2017 | By Roopa Mulpuri
Roopa Mulpuri is a senior in the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. She spent the summer interning at the Mann Deshi Foundation, an NGO in rural Maharashtra dedicated to supporting female entrepreneurs. Roopa worked on writing stories for their blog, interviewing entrepreneurs that have benefitted from Mann Deshi trainings and resources. In her time, she was particularly affected by the gender inequality she saw:
“I was struck by how much of their agency was taken away by being born as a woman in rural India. Their male counterparts are more likely to be able to go on to higher education, not being trapped in the same cycle of poverty and lack of access to resources. As girls they may be told to strive for achievement, but as women their opportunities are limited by societal perceptions of the family. Though things are changing in India, they are changing much more slowly in rural areas. The stark contrast in how boys and girls are raised and the opportunities provided to them inspired me to write the following piece.”
she was raised to be kind, beautiful, obedient. you’re such a good girl her father would say. she sat quietly during their family meals, observing as her mother joined them last to eat. she was taught to cook, to sweep, to speak only when spoken to. get good marks in school her parents told her. do not embarrass the family name. log kya kahenge? what will outside people think?
he was raised to be strong, confident, intelligent. as a young boy, he broke a vase once. his mother grew angry. his father told his elder sister to clean up the mess and replied to his mother, “boys will be boys.” he was taught to swim, to ride a bicycle, to debate politics with elders. his loud opinions were always encouraged. get good marks in school his parents told him. do not embarrass the family name. what will outside people think?
eventually she received admission into a good college. she wanted to study engineering. she went to a college a few hours away. good, her parents said. you have done well. she was happy that her parents were proud. she dreamed that one day she could get a job far away. travel and see new places. someday maybe, she thought.
he received top marks on his college entrance exam. he went to engineering college. he and his friends would spend the weekends going to nearby hill stations, exploring and trekking. he dreamed of a job overseas somewhere faraway, where he could experience a new life. someday, I will leave. he knew it to be true.
she received a job in a large city far away. she was excited to tell her parents, she thought they would be proud. when she told them, they were angry. a job? faraway? you’re an unmarried girl, what business do you have traveling to Delhi? what will outside people think?
he received a job in Europe. he was ecstatic and accepted the position immediately. when he told his parents, they were thrilled and proud. they told all their friends that their son had received top marks and had gotten a job abroad. what will outside people think? they will be so jealous. what a good son we have, they said.
we have been looking into matches for you, they told her. if you get married, you can accept the job. she considered her options. live her entire life in a small town, never going beyond its edges. or accept marriage with an unknown man, but she would at least be able to leave. so she married the unknown man and embarked on a new life.
he returned home many years later in his late twenties. his mother and father greeted him with open arms and smiling faces. you will get married now, beta won’t you? his mother asked. yes, I am ready to pick a bride. he listed his demands and his mother set about looking for a match. within in the week he went to visit a suitable bride. he found her appearance and demeanor pleasing and asked for the marriage. they were married in a few weeks and he brought her back overseas.
she looked out at her children playing in the street. her son and daughter play fighting with foam swords. she wondered how free her daughter must feel, without the weight of the world. no one yet judging the fairness of her daughter’s skin, her outspokenness, or her silly sense of humor. she had stopped working many years ago, at her husband’s request. she missed the excitement of her work. the idleness of the housework chafed at her. her daughter called a truce, holding her son back at sword point.
she decided then that her daughter would never have to sacrifice any of her dreams. not on her account. who cares what outside people think?