MIDWAY : Different treatment

Whenever I am in Butwal, I make sure to call my former students to inquire about their health and progress. I want to know what they have made of their lives. A teacher, in our culture, is as respected a figure as a father. Likewise, a teacher treats his students like his own sons and daughters. Hence it is very normal (and desirable) for a teacher to be genuinely worried about his students.

But whenever I call my erstwhile students, a curious thing happens. When I call a male student, his parents hand him the receiver with great enthusiasm. But when I phone a female student, parents seldom give her the receiver. I am asked rather out-of-place questions and have to put forward elaborate justifications for calling “a girl”. Even then, I am frequently told that she is out.

It is a clear sign of discrimination against girls in a patriarchal society. ‘Weak’, ‘incomplete’ and ‘irrational’ are the metaphors which have been used to define women from time immemorial. Girls are also said to be less trustworthy. Existentialist and outspoken feminist Simone de Beauvoir believed that in our culture women are treated as the “second sex”.

If from an early age girls are not allowed to entertain their minimum freedom, how can we expect gender equality in our society? How can a girl realise her potential if she has to grow up in a milieu that is always reinforcing her weakness and vulnerability? Early impressions make a lasting impact. So is it not important to allow girls to take control of their lives from early on?

Freedom does not mean that they be allowed to do anything they like. There will always be moral and societal responsibilities. But barring girls from taking the calls of men, though it might seem like a trivial issue, shows the prevalent hypocrisy of our society.

If the people who are conscious enough to send their daughters to schools have such an attitude, what can we expect from the uneducated and ignorant people? Building of an open and civilised society starts at home. The chick cannot come out unless it breaks through the eggshell. Similarly, we will never be able to let go of our age-old bias and open up our minds unless we force our way through the veils of ignorance and hypocrisy.