Special 26 - An Article by Dr. Aparna Sethi

I still remember my university days. I was conducting a session on an insightful topic named ‘Personality’ and was explaining how our upbringing and experience impact our personality. Students were enjoying and were introspecting their personalities.

Preeti, one of the students was sitting all alone on the last bench. She was looking disturbed. I could see the tears rolling down.

I also ignored and gave her space. I continued with my class and Preeti continued crying. The class got over and all the students went outside. I was also about to leave, I looked at Preeti and asked, “ Preeti … is everything all right? “

She stood up, took her bag, wiped her eyes and said, “Yes yes ma’am”

“Preeti if you are comfortable then you can share with me.” I used to teach Organisational Behaviour and students used to discuss their challenges with me.

Preeti again wiped her eyes, looked at me and asked, “Madam why is that our family wants us to be educated and not to have aspirations and dreams?”

The class was empty I asked her to sit, I sat on another bench next to her kept my laptop and marker on the bench took a deep breath and asked her to share her feelings with me openly.

“Madam, I come from a very small place. I have a joint family and we are 28 people staying together.”

I preferred not to interrupt her and she continued. “My parents sent me here in Gurgaon to study and get a degree. Now I have been living here for close to three years and got exposed to this vibrant city. Education gave me an exposure to corporate life and now I can visualize my future life.” I smiled, kept my hand on her shoulder and said, “That’s nice Preeti.”

She nodded her head and said, “No madam that’s not nice because I forgot that I don’t have the right to have dreams. Because my parents just want me to be educated so that I can get a good life partner. Madam now the time has come to go back. I love my family but I want to work. I want to live my life independently and also don’t want to hurt my parents. I spoke to my mother and she is convinced but she asked me how will you convince the remaining 26 people in the family. Others will not support you because if we allow you to work then all cousins will expect the same and blame your father.” Preeti broke down completely, “ Madam I don’t know what to do? I love my parents but I want to live here .. work here..”

There are many girls like Preeti in cities who go through such cognitive dissonance. They love and respect their families however want to achieve their dreams. Young girls like Preeti feel education is a must for them but having aspirations is a crime.

Companies are developing policies and government is also coming with many schemes but the ratio of women getting education and women joining the workforce will not match due to social norms.

The question is, “How much control do Indian women have over career-related decisions?

The policies or initiatives are there to get women at the workplace. But only policies will not work effectively. A growing body of research suggests that social norms about appropriate behaviour for women, and the enforcement of these norms by women’s parents, husbands, and parents-in-law have a huge impact on their behavior. There is a sizeable number of women who need to take permission from their family members to work and it’s a myth that it is not happening in urban and well-educated families.

Having said that, I feel happy to share Preeti convinced all those special 26 successfully and completed her Master’s degree and joined a well-known brand.

She invited me to her marriage. On the day of the wedding, Preeti was looking like a princess and confidence on her face was making her glow. I went on the stage to wish her and said, “ Congratulations dear for marriage as well as for convincing all special 26.”

She smiled and said picture abhi baaki hai madam (not yet madam).. now convincing my new family members.. and the struggle continues.

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