When a global pandemic hits India

While some stockpile and battle over toilet paper…what happens when a total lockdown hits India. 

Strict new rules or ‘draconian’ regulations as some describe curbs life in the UK to help tackle the spread of coronavirus. With over 80,000 cases reported in mainland China, as the pandemic reaches the borders of many nations, the number of cases outside China now exceed that figure with more than 425,000 affected in over 150 countries worldwide. Sweeping ‘lockdown’ regulations dominate and are now being echoed right across the world.

As of March 24th, India, with a population of 1.3billion joins the list of countries under lockdown. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has imposed a nationwide lockdown which will be enforced for 21 days following a sharp increase in confirmed cases to 519. Although cities including Delhi and Mumbai have already been under strict restrictions, this recent move extends to every corner of the country. Modi suggests what many world leaders endorse that ‘social distancing is the only option to combat coronavirus’. As well as ‘social distancing’, other key words such as ‘social isolation’ and ‘hygiene’ are other words making the rounds.  While many are trying to protect themselves from this virus, an uncomfortable truth is unfolding that not everyone can, especially for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised representing 176 million living in extreme poverty according to an recent Oxfam report. 

The challenge. 

As the pandemic takes precedence, many uncomfortable truths are starting to resurface. Through my own research and fieldwork working in remote regions in Gujarat, a northwest state in India, many of these communities I visited in these regions will be at the greatest risk of contracting the virus. The burdens of the pandemic will be pushed disproportionately on an already polarised nation created not just through wealth but also through the social structure on a daily basis. These challenges are compounded further by the housing arrangements, little access to sanitation and drinking water facilities, poor access to health centres as well as poor access to knowledge and information.   

Nomadic communities in remote regions in Gujarat

In reality, the concept of ‘social distancing’ as a measure to curb the pandemic may not be recognised in rural communities where social distancing is not an option.  The reality for nomadic communities, the poor or even those living in slums where many are huddled together in overcrowded homes and huts as well as communities with little understanding of the importance of hygiene and washing hands transmission rates of the virus will peak. This dystopian outlook is a potentially true for the nomadic community I supported in 2019. Not only do these communities have no protective measures including access to running water and soap, literacy levels are low and access to knowledge from technology in the form of smart phones is non-existent.  

While the coronavirus continues to evoke much despair, many nations around the world are taking many necessary restrictions, however, speculations will continue for each  nation, not only on how they react but the aftermath and possibly for those who remain voiceless.    

Thank you for reading

#staysafe #stayhome

A blanket approval?

‘’ One Child, One Teacher, One Book, One Pen can change the world’’

This line doesn’t need an introduction. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear this. If you are unaware, it’s by Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations on her 16thbirthday. Her courage and value advocating for education and especially for girls has moved many. Regardless of what creates girl’s exclusion in education, the consequences for them are real. 

Let’s face it, education has been hailed as the ‘silver bullet’ for combating many profound challenges. Beyond the usual human capital benefits, the importance for specifically advocating girl’s participation within education is so that girls can increase their sense of agency. However, simply assuming that access to education will automatically translate into empowerment ignores the true experiences of schooling, which will ultimately drive and contribute to further education divisions.

Over the past decade, I have spent much of my time and research within Asia, specifically India. Without a doubt, I can recall many headlines and newsflashes of the worthy education progress across India. Although the Government of India have made heavy commitments for education expansion since its Independence over 70 years ago, the parameters for development and inclusion remain a ‘pipeline dream’ as local realities remain very different. This is true for tribal communities, constitutionally known as the Scheduled Tribe (ST) in India who represent 8.6 per cent of the total population of India (Census of India,2011). 

As part of my own field research conducted in February 2019 within a remote village in Gujarat, India I hold some apprehension towards education within this setting. While ST girls continue to face marginalisation for multiple reasons, simply providing access to education doesn’t actually disentangle any of the true complexities that ST girls face in India. To make a real difference within India, there is a greater need to focus on what school experiences ST girls face if we are truly to deliver a difference. 

Here is a couple of questions to consider:

  1. Does education simply reinforce the superiority of female gender norms?
  2. How is education perceived among parents?
  3. Are certain types/subjects/activities promoted more than others?

Drawing on my field research by using one isolated example of ST girls attending tailoring classes demonstrates why there is a real need to focus on girls schooling experiences. The image below is an example of a blanket using the skills learnt from such classes. 

This was created solely by a 14 year old girl, it is beautiful. The intricacies are incredible that far outweigh any of my own attempts at 15 during my GCSEs. She made four in total. However, what my research implies is that for ST girls to participate in co-curricular activities such as sewing far outweighed most other education decisions made by ST parents within the village. Why? The ability to learn to sew to make blankets was found to indicative as a mark to support girls’ marriage preparation, a dowry exchange during marriage. 

Drawing on parental interviews, typical responses stated:

‘’That is good of the school teaches sewing machine, but this is mainly for girls’’.

‘’I say that learning sewing is more important. For the girls they don’t have to work and they can earn money at home. That is my plan. For the girls whatever the work she gets at home is good then going out’’. 

On the one hand, while tailoring is offered as a long term economic security for ST girls, the overriding message of tailoring as a co-curricular education activity in this case is compromised which reinforces girls role within the domestic sphere and short term marriage goals. 

Although that this is an isolated example, more questions and research needs to be raised on other schooling experiences that ST children are encountering and how their experiences may offer different interpretations. Ultimately, advocating for a ‘quality education’ approach is vital, but encompassing ST parents within education matters need to recognised in order to deliver real changes. 

Here are three questions for you to consider:

  1. What else can girls gain from learning tailoring? Is there a space for girls to be empowered with these skills?
  2. Do they receive an education and get married so there is no tangible value seen?
  3. With these education skills, can girls be better equipped to pass education as an asset to their daughters?

Thank you

I value any of your comments and feedback 

Priya  

At the crossroad

There is no shame in taking a leap in life even if it embraces uncertainty. I’ve recently taken the plunge and packed up working on the ‘frontline’ of the education system. 

Being a teacher is all I have ever envisioned growing up. However, for me, this is a foundation for a greater cause. While potholes stand in the way of any journey, I look back on past the 13 years with fond memories. 

Throughout September, each day I recorded one memory of what some may describe as ‘jail time’ within my profession. I share these memories with you with pride, gazing outside coffee shop windows drinking lattes.

Here goes…

  1. Detention slips and strike cards
  2. Curious smells from the student toilets
  3. Pealing classroom displays
  4. A David Attenborough DVD saves the impromptu cover lesson
  5. Facing those ‘dreaded classes’
  6. A whole school fire drill in the pouring rain caused by a burning bagel
  7. Heaps of workplace banter
  8. Another education initiative
  9. Another windows update, creates a 20 minute delay to log on to any PC. 
  10. Coffee clubs and ‘sexy marking clubs’.
  11. Panic planning and marking
  12. Hitting your photocopying budget quota two weeks before the end of term.
  13. Another year teaching longshore drift.
  14. Suggesting that geography is simply colouring in. It’s shading, actually. 
  15. Living for the weekend, no wait, half term. 
  16. A snow day blessing
  17. Mid August exam result anxiety
  18. Terrified making the first phonecall home to a parent
  19. Seagulls at breaktime out to get
  20. Swinging back on chairs and calling out
  21. Precarious graffiti images
  22. Job promotions and keeping the faith
  23. Glorious international trips that crafts the travel bug among the young eager eye
  24. Thankful for a 3 month travel sabbatical 
  25. Incredible form groups
  26. End of year gift appreciation
  27. From oversized blazers, to… 
  28. Foundation and nail varnish, ‘please can you just tuck your shirt in’!
  29. ‘Miss, my water bottle leaked in my bag’.
  30. ‘Miss, can I turn the page now’?

Rediscovering

Priya x