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I am back from a village (Narala) nestled deep in the hinterlands of Aurangabad district in the Western Indian State of Maharashtra. I had the opportunity of interacting with a very articulate group of young girls… all in the 13-17 year age group. All of them were either in school or in junior college…. I rarely get an opportunity to do so.. most of my interactions are with women and men… rarely with adolescents…

I had intensive discussions…… we spoke about a host of things…. their daily routine, their families, their school / college, their friends, their leisure activities…. We spoke about their aspirations…… the young women were very articulate… it was a great feeling… the girls were also bold… I encouraged them to ask me questions….. They went haywire after that… more than I expected…  I was asked about my personal life, my work, my life in the city, the movies I watch, the books I read, my son, my spouse…. Very exciting it was…. It was great to hear girls from a small village being so bold and articulate……..

We spoke about their dreams and aspirations… naturally most of the girls had limited dreams…. They had a limited world view and limited space… none of them had gone beyond Aurangabad which was about 50 km away… Three of the girls had a dream of ‘working in a office, any office’…. One said she wanted to be a teacher and one a doctor! I got a feeling that they were afraid of dreaming….

We kept talking…. got even more personal…. We spoke about their marriage…. That is when the girls took a mental step back… they were very apprehensive about the event… it was, they were clear, the most important event in their lives but one over which they had no control whatsoever. …. Sangeeta said “Sir, dreaming is fine… but I don’t know whether I will be in this village tomorrow. I may get married. If my parents find a half way decent boy they will arrange my marriage and pack me off. Then what I can or cannot do depends on my husbands’ family…” I decided to explore this further…. What emerged was depressing, so to say the least…. The girls were clear that their parents would be expected to pay a hefty dowry, in cash and kind… this was irrespective of the ‘quality’ of the boy…. one girl, merely 13 years old,  said poignantly, “Sir I just hope that my husband is not a cheat and a drunkard. I hope that he does not beat me too much.. I will gladly settle for just that. I wont even be bothered  about how much he earns, how much land he owns, whether he has a house…”

All the time that I was talking to them, I kept thinking of the daughters of my friends… the urban elite… their lives are so different…. So liberating… So empowered……. So pampered….

We never think of not educating our daughters..

…..We never think of interrupting their lives and marrying them off (at the age of 11, for God’s sake)………

We never think of making them slog it out for 18 hours a day…

We encourage them to dream and then do all that is humanly possible to help them fulfill their dreams… We never think of not letting them fulfill their ambitions… their dreams…

I was and am depressed…. We, the urban elite are only a small fraction of the people in this country of ours…. Our lives are golden… for us India is Shining…. There is a feel good…. For us… what about the remaining population? When are these children going to dream? When is the mind going to be without fear? What are we going to do about it? Don’t we all have a responsibility to do something? At the very least think about it?

When is there going to be social change? A revolution? How many million girls have to be sacrificed at the altar of our collective lethargy? It is not my argument that any one person / agency is responsible… all of us the civil society, government (with its laws and enforcement), the elite have to take the blame… we don’t care enough… we all have a role to play… let us keep our eyes open… let us prevent this from happening around us… yes this happens in cities as well… let us talk about it… let us support activists working on this issue… let us talk about these issues openly…

It is our issue……… let us not be under any misconception……… “for no man is an island…complete in himself…. Every death diminishes me because I am involved in all mankind… so never send to know for whom the bells toll……. They toll for thee…”

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