"Fight for everything you're worth, and then some more."
Author: Stuti Ajmera
I never, in my wildest fantasies, imagined that our educational system would be the source of my greatest disappointment in life.
I was a bright youngster growing up in Kerala's quaint city of Calicut. Because we used to dwell together at our grandmother's ancestral house, our family bonded well. I was the only girl among all my cousins, which earned me the "no limit to anything" title. I was the head of the all-boys gang and did all the things they did. We used to spend a lot of time together, and I still treasure those memories. Being together with my family, I imbibed a lot of values from them during my childhood.
When I first hit puberty, life suddenly became a traumatic merry-go-round. Nobody cared what I did or wore before, but all of a sudden, everyone around me was aware of everything I did and said. I was asked to wear salwars and shawls, something that I didn't particularly like. I had no idea what was happening to me and why. We weren't taught what menstruation was or why it occurs back then. Because of my anxiety, I didn't even inform my parents. They just found out about it afterward. Once these biological changes took place, the discrimination started, and I was sidelined. Everyone's attitude towards me changed. I was told not to do certain things, not speak to my cousins, sit in a particular way, and dress in specific ways. Questions bombarded my mind as I rebelled against these ridiculous notions which were never thrust upon me before. I often asked my parents why the boys weren’t told to do the same. But I never received a definitive response to it.
My mother was very particular about my education. Being the first graduate from our family, she insisted that I study until I received my degree. Though the marriage talks were not even thought of in my house, society took a complete one-eighty degree turn and pushed me into reality.
My physical appearance altered slightly while I was in eighth grade. As I got taller, people mistook me for an 18-year-old and began approaching me with marriage proposals. The thought of getting married terrified me. I knew that if I got married then, my life objectives would be put on hold, probably forever. Even though my family was adamantly opposed, society rebelled just as hard.
Until my graduation, I got a lot of support and encouragement from my family. However, once I graduated, the same individuals who encouraged me to pursue more meaningful goals advised me to be subservient and get married. Relatives taunted me and informed me that going any farther would be a mistake. Though I never paid any heed to it, I didn't get that assistance when I needed it the most, which caused extensive emotional trauma. The pressure from society was immense, and I was just one young girl, creating a barrier for myself, trying to withstand all of it.
Being from Calicut, a Keralite, and on top of that, an Indian Muslim Woman, I experience many cultural barriers. The literacy rate in Kerala is very high, but so is the pressure of marriage. My parents are very proud of me because I was my person, and I still am. I decided on my own future and carved my path to pursue.
Relatives advised me to become a professor or a doctor since it was ‘safe’ and the hours were ‘convenient for me to take care of my family. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my life would turn out like this. Society has predetermined our capabilities: women cannot ‘risk' anything since they are weak and unable. On the other hand, they didn't even allow us to find it out on our own. Such overprotection and interference were unwelcomed in my life. Women were enslaved, and it had long been maintained that we couldn't do it. My adamant personality, on the other hand, did not give in to such foolish notions. But as I moved on with my graduation, I felt like I was back to square one in a place I believed to be liberal and inclusive.
My college professors prohibited me from participating in any co-curricular activities in my third year of graduation. I was the General Secretary of a student NGO that advocated for higher education for students in the Malabar region. When my department learned of my involvement in the community service initiative, they urged me to stop right away. When I declined, my grade for the last semester was deducted. I was left stunned. I was informed I couldn't do it by the entire department. They saw me as an unsuccessful student. I was subjected to a slew of needless limitations. I respected them at first, but that respect quickly morphed into disappointment. Because of all of this misfortune, my grades suffered due to my mental anguish, and I sought professional help.
This gave me a lot of insight into the reality of the world. The way everything around us works. My friends were scared and feared even speaking up. My battle against my teachers only made me stronger and more successful. If I had remained quiet, I wouldn’t have been able to get that courage within myself. Our education system, no matter how flawed, is ours. And it's high time we speak up against such practices and start promoting equality, respect, and sensitivity.
I started working when I was 17 years old. I used to work as a Biology tutor, and I used to cover all of my expenditures with the money I made. I didn't rely on my family. Therefore I gave my parents a portion of my earnings. This financial independence provided me with a great deal of flexibility. Even if I don't get any help from others, I know I can rely on myself and stand on my own two feet. My mother instilled in me the values of investing, saving, and financial literacy. I also funded my younger brother's schooling using my earnings.
Many individuals have informed me that women are incapable of doing many tasks and are easily manipulated. I came across several people who perceived me as a woman, ignored my talents, and reduced my salary. Some offered me high-level jobs for meager pay. But I know I'm entitled to equal compensation, and I'll keep working until I get what I know I deserve.
To all individuals who have worked hard to get to where they are now, don't be bound by society's ridiculous ideas. Fight for everything you're worth, and then some more. Because only you, and no one else, has the power to make it better.