Soul & Substance: Aisha

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Aisha- Project Manzil

“बीवी बेटी बहन पड़ोसन थोड़ी थोड़ी सी सब में

दिन भर इक रस्सी के ऊपर चलती नटनी जैसी माँ”

निदा फ़ाज़ली

Aisha, who is fond of poems and poetry, recites this famous sher of Nida Fazli looking a bit shy at first and then she becomes serious.

“Actually this is the present or future reality of every girl in my locality. This is what society at large wants from all of us girls. The girls who are given birth to do the work of the courtyard die in it one day. In our country, girls hardly die while flying a plane, being martyred at the border, or being CEOs of big businesses.”, shares a pensive Aisha whose face embodies the promise of youth.

I interject her with a report that stated about 18% of startups are spearheaded by women founders or co-founders in India. Among them, approximately 36 ventures have achieved unicorn status or are on the brink of doing so as of 2022. Aisha asks, “You really think 18% is a good number for almost half the population of the nation?”. This is the moment I took a step back and let Aisha share her perspective without any more breaks.

“That’s why teaching girls to write is considered futile in our area. In the same way, society also prepares the girls, to keep their mouths stitched. After all, girls are still expected to carry the honor of our families. They are taught the work of chulha-chowke (kitchen) from childhood but they are not sent to school to complete their studies. Because people believe that even after doing everything, this is what girls are truly meant for. When I see myself in such an environment, I feel lucky that at least my father is not like this. He gives equal importance to the studies of both me and my brothers. They don’t consider household work to be small, but they don’t believe that it should be only for girls. Mother often tells him not to spoil me so much that prospective bridegrooms find me too independent and free-minded for their sons.”

Aisa took a moment to rearrange her thoughts. After sipping water a couple of times, Aisha resumes, “Upon finishing my schooling, I found myself uncertain about how to navigate my career path. This is what life is without generational knowledge and guidance for girls like me who are first-generation learners and live in small cities or villages. It was during this time that destiny pointed the way. I chose to undergo skill training in healthcare, and when I confided in my father, his unwavering encouragement further fueled my determination, as it always has.”

Something stirs within Aisha as she relives her journey in memory flashes. 

“I didn’t want to live my life like the rest of the girls around me. My father sells small goods by roaming around in the streets and runs the house with every single rupee with great difficulty. Still, he has always said yes to whatever I have asked him to date. Whatever I have asked for! He could have said no. But I guess a kind parent has the biggest heart in the world– something I might only understand when I become a mother myself.”

“I am a certified health worker now for the last six months. Since then I have noticed a change not only in myself but also in the condition of my family. Father doesn’t have to carry the burden of the whole family alone anymore. Together, we run the family and its expenses now. When his health is bad or the weather is bad, my father isn’t forced to go out to work anymore. Now some holidays have been added to his life too.” It’s rewarding to see Aisha beaming with pride at having gifted the great gift of rest to her father.

 I will also do my further studies with my own money. Seeing me, many families in the locality have now started dreaming of educating their daughters further and making them self-reliant. Following the path that the destination has carved out for me, I have to reach a place where the thinking of society about girls will change, if only minimally. To tell you the truth, in this fast-paced, I really don’t think that a slow, long-drawn-out change is going to make the cut anymore. We have to be really fast about women empowerment. Wouldn’t that be good for everyone in the long run?”

I ask her with a reassuring smile on my face, “ Why do you think it will be good for everyone? Women empowerment?”

The innocence of the young adult returns as she looks into my eyes with inimitable hopefulness, “ Because it is the kinder thing to do. And isn’t choosing kindness always the right thing? Nobody is saying that women and men are the same. Our bodies, brains- everything works differently and the creator intended it to be like that. But we can choose, choose to treat one another as equals. Our choices always count the most.”

(Aisha has been trained under Project Manzil in Udaipur. The project aims to provide counseling and employability skills training in streams like IT, healthcare, beauty & wellness, security, retail, automobile, apparel, home furnishing, agriculture, tourism & hospitality, and electrical & electronics to young girls in Rajasthan.)

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