Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.
– Carol Saline
“Geeta and I are twins. She is very bossy sometimes and loves to remind me that she is my elder sister by 5 minutes! She fights with me in school over silly things and then I’m the one who has to make amends with her. But if any other girl argues with me, Geeta takes my side and fights for me. At home too we have some arguments if I take her hair clips or she takes my earrings but when Mom shouts us we protect each other! I guess having a brother could also be nice but I wouldn’t exchange Geeta with anybody or anything. It’s nice to have a sister,” says a constantly giggling Sita, when we met her at her school in a village of Jalore district, Rajasthan, India.
Although their happy disposition and smiling faces don’t indicate it, Geeta and Sita have had a difficult past. Like most men (and women) in the community, their father wanted a son. Some years after Geeta and Sita were born, finally their mother gave birth to a son who unfortunately died due to ill-health. All the blame was put on their mother. She was called cursed and accused of being careless. Their father started abusing their mother and eventually divorced her, cutting off ties with his daughters as well.
Their grandparents forcibly got their mother married again, but to her misfortune her second husband and his family abandoned her as well when a daughter, instead of a son, was born. This was the second time she had to return to her maternal home, now with three dependents. Geeta and Sita’s grandparents and uncle resented the added burden of having to support them all and made this very clear with their taunts and ridicule. Their mother made Geeta and Sita drop out of school when they were in Class 4 and gave them the task of doing the household chores and taking care of their youngest sister while she found ways to earn whatever wages she could.
At a very young age, their own fathers and their entire society have in so many ways revealed to Geeta, Sita and their youngest sister that they are dispensable and lack worth. An unfair and wrong lesson to learn at the onset of life. Unfortunately majority of girls like them will grow up and live with this untrue fact as truth unless something is done about it! It’s a mindset change issue, and Education is the first step towards ensuring this change.
Educate Girls’ Field Coordinator, Lalita, identified Geeta and Sita as out-of-school girls during the door-to-door survey. When she went to the girls’ home she met their grandparents and mother. Hearing their story, Lalita suggested that the girls be put into the nearest KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhalaya) – a government-run free residential school for girls. Lalita explained that the girls would be taken care of while receiving an education and so have an equal chance at a better future. The grandparents readily agreed as it would lessen the burden of providing for two people. However, Geeta and Sita’s mother was skeptical about separating her girls from herself and sending them far away to study. Lalita made frequent visits to their home and often spoke to the girls’ mother encouraging her to send her daughters to school.
Lalita took her to the KGBV and made her stay there overnight to show her the premises and classes. A few months later Geeta and Sita were enrolled in the KGBV.
Geeta and Sita have blossomed in this environment where they are allowed to explore and treated as individuals with worth. Now when they go home the changes in them are visible to everyone. They have convinced their grandfather to quit having tobacco and they have both earned the respect of their family members.
Geeta and Sita both want to become police officers, “To ensure that more girls will stand up against what happened with our mother and us,” they say, “and so that even in the future we will always protect each other and our younger sister too!”
*Names changed to protect the identity of the minors