International Women’s Day 2023: When mothers learn from daughters and begin anew

In a South Kolkata suburb, life comes a full circle as women take baby steps to fulfill lost dreams and rush to attend afternoon classes

By Trina Chakrabarti
Published: Wednesday 08 March 2023
Photo: CRY__

Kaushila Devi (40) is a busy woman — she wakes up early, cooks, washes, prepares food for her 21-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter and for her husband, who leaves for work sharp at 8. Having completed all her household chores by noon, the only spare time she has for herself are the scorching
summer afternoons.

But she doesn’t take a nap, or laze around. Grabbing her copy, a couple of books and a pencil, she hurries to her afternoon classes. This is her flight to freedom, her pathway to nurture a long-cherished dream — she wants to learn to read and write, and she wants to do this for herself.

On days she can’t attend classes in person because of family compulsions, she has told her teacher that she would like to do online classes, just like she has seen her son and daughter do over the past two years.

Even as the world showers women with glowing words and gifts on International Women’s Day and social media goes on an overdrive displaying inspirational messages and quotes, here’s a 40-something mother, living in an urban slum in Kolkata, who lives to achieve a tiny dream, every single day of her life.

And, most importantly, she draws inspiration from her adolescent daughter, who is teaching her new perspectives and newer ways of thinking.

Kaushila Devi is one of around 35 women attending 1-hour afternoon lessons on weekends, as part of the project #EducatetheGirlCHild, by CRY in the Taratala area.

A mother is and will always remain a child’s first caregiver. CRY, in all of its interventions, has always tried to involve the mothers in an impactful way — this not only helps the children learn and comprehend more, it also increases awareness among the mothers about the need to educate the children, especially girls.

In Taratala, the focus of the ongoing intervention is education of the girl child. To start with, it was all about acquainting the mothers about the mission, details of what their girls were getting into and the impact it would have on their over-all development.

Over the next few months, the women, aged 21-56, started noticing the change that was taking place — their daughters were taking interest in studies and their confidence had increased manifold — the girls were becoming a better version of themselves.

Something changed within the women too, 80 per cent of who are housewives and most of whom can barely read or write. While interacting with the project staff about their children’s progress, some mothers expressed the wish to learn and study. One of them said she had seen the colourful books which her daughter reads regularly and wanted to start reading them.

The afternoon classes started in April with 27 mothers, but the numbers have already gone up to 35. The women are learning to write the alphabets in English and Bengali and also picking up the numbers. 

They try to memorise the mathematical tables and pep each other up to remember them. They are delighted when they are given a homework assignment, and manage to find time to complete them. It’s a completely new beginning for some women, while others are trying to remember what they had learnt in classes 3-4, in their native village schools, many years ago.

The intent is obvious, the desire palpable.

Thirty-five-year-old Rita Devi has five daughters, the youngest being barely six months old. She was studying in Class VI back in her village in Bihar when she was married off. But when she saw one of her daughters enjoying the classes that she attends here, the mother was desperate to restart from where
she had left off.

According to the special educator at the project, Rita is the best student in class — an attentive listener, a keen learner and always eager to help others complete their homework. She loves to sketch and draw and encourages her classmates to take up sketching and drawing in their spare time, if they get any.

Middle-aged Saina Dewan has always struggled to do the count of grocery bill from the neighbourhood shop and cringes at the mocking look her husband, an AC mechanic, throws at her every time she asks him for help. In class, Saina is showing keen interest in numerals and fast picking up simple addition and
subtraction of numbers.

Long way to go yet, but she is confident that soon she would be help to do the grocery bill count on her own. Baby steps towards achieving a small personal goal!

The cozy, informal afternoon classes with a few books and mouthful of questions and answers have turned into a happy refuge for these mothers, in more ways than one. It’s a place where they can pour their hearts out and express their innermost desires without the fear of being judged or reprimanded.

They discuss their family problems and even their children’s problems and try to work out solutions, in their own simple ways. Their confidence has received a huge boost and they, by their own admission, have become more cheerful and optimistic, despite the insurmountable hardships in their lives.

The most heartening change observed among the mothers is the subtle shift in their line of thought — the way they feel about issues such as girls’ education and child marriage. They are not hesitating to break a deeply ingrained gender stereotype: education is not important for girls. They want to ensure
that their daughters lead a better life than them.

Rita Devi has told her teachers that she wants to study because she wants to help her daughters in their studies. “I want my daughters to complete their
education successfully. In fact, I want all the girls in the neighbourhood to pursue education. Marriage can wait. What happened to us many years ago should not happen to them,” she says.

And, at the end of it all, the mothers are thankful to have got a new lease of life. “They are overwhelmed with gratitude. They keep thanking us for giving us the opportunity to learn. We keep the lessons very simple and try to boost their confidence,” says the special educator.

On a positive note

The icing on the cake is the feeling of amazement and pride in the children and even their fathers, when they see the women trying to turn over a new leaf — a paradigm shift from the patriarchal line of thought that bars women from stepping out of domestic confinement.

A-14-year-old boy told his teacher that her mother now sits by his side when he studies and tries to read his books and understand his lessons. He has never seen this happening before!

The boy has vowed to support his mother if she wants to continue her studies. What better way to pay tribute to a mother, a woman on International Women’s Day and everyday of the year.

Trina Chakrabarti is Regional Director, CRY – Child Rights and You (East)

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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