"My Life"

This is an essay by a student of the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) vocational school in Ahmedabad, a partner of the UU Holdeen India Program . This student won the "My Life" composition award at her graduation ceremony, which President Morales attended last month on his journey through India . Her composition was translated into English below by Martin Macwan, founder of the DSK school. In the story of my life I want to tell others that when I was studying in class 7, I had the desire to study further but I could not due to my family's poor economic condition. There was a day when my family did not have even a single penny. We stayed hungry. My father has only one kidney and he has difficulty hearing. A year and half back my father was admitted to the hospital and his sister had donated one of her kidneys to him. As of now, my father has fractured his hand. These are some of the difficulties in my life. My biggest difficulty is my engagement which I was not ready for but had given-in to due to the pressure of my parents. After I return home, I want to break my engagement as I wish to study further. I dream of becoming a beautician and earning money for my parents. I want my family to realize that I can contribute too. When I was twelve years old, I was so anemic that people advised my parents not to waste money on my health and hospitalization; that I should essentially have been allowed to die. My parents were hopeful of my survival, however, could not find people who could donate blood to me. I'll never forget that while I was hospitalized for twelve days in Jamnagar, one of our neighbors donated blood for me. I have never been allowed to step out of my house. I have been told repeatedly that a girl should never step outside the house and respect and believe all her parents tell her. Thus, I believed all what was told to me. After coming to DSK (Dalit Shakti Kendra) I believe that even a girl can make progress. In my family, all believe that a girl should be married off at sixteen. I am not prepared for marriage but my parents believe that a girl at sixteen is destined to be at her in-law's home. I wonder why only girls have to suffer all these difficulties? The boys have no restrictions. I cannot select my own dress. If I have to go somewhere I have to seek permission. Why all these rules for me alone? Why do these rules not apply to my brother? After I return home from DSK I want to tell my parents that both boys and girls should be treated as equals and should not be discriminated against. Initially I did not like DSK but today I feel it is my own home. I do not wish to leave from here. On my return home, I want to challenge my arranged marriage. DSK has taught me that I should make decisions for my own life. I understand that parents like agreeable daughters. After coming to DSK I have learned that a I have a right to have a say about my own life. I have a right to live. On my return home, I want to convince my neighbors to send their daughter to DSK. I will tell them that after going to DSK one gets a new life as has been the case with me. On my return home, I want to setup my own business. I want to become self-sustaining. Initially all were opposed to my idea of coming to DSK, but I did not believe them. I will convince my parents that girls should be allowed to be free. One of my nieces had eloped with a boy and my parents feared that I too, if set free, would also elope. Parents should trust their children; girls elope when parents do not trust them. Although I shall never elope, I do want to marry the person I choose. I do not want to disrespect my parents but it does not mean that I shall give in to their choice of the boy when it comes to the question of my marriage. It is my life and marriage has to be my choice. After marriage, do the parents know that the girls are happy with their husbands? I want to ensure for my marriagethat I am happy after the marriage. It is a normal case that initially after the marriage, the girls are treated nicely by the in-laws but often, in the later days, they are beaten and sometimes even killed too. At DSK I have learned that I have a right to live and make progress. At home, I hated to be a girl. The girls are expected to make all the sacrifices. After coming to DSK I am proud of being a girl. In our families when a girl is born, her arrival is treated as an advent of 'Trouble' for the family. Birth of the son, on the other hand, is an advent of 'Kuldipak' (Lamp of the clan). The life of the girl is compared to 'Jalebi' (A sweet that is shaped like a spider net, with complicated architecture) but the birth of a son is celebrated by distributing 'Penda' a delicacy, which is nicely shaped and known for its taste. Why do our own parents discriminate against us girls? Everyone in the neighborhood tries to influence me and my parents regarding my marriage. People and my parents question me on my idea of pursuing my education in place of marriage. Their logic is that after marriage the girl has to attend to all household chores and therefore need not be educated. But I do not approve the idea that women have to serve the husband after the marriage. He will order for water and then go to sleep. At every stage, the girl after her marriage is criticized and oppressed. Often she is abused and assaulted. She has to obey everything her father and mother-in-law tell her. Hence I do not want to marry until I am on my own and independent. On my return, I want to tell others not to interfere in my life. I want to start my small business. I will never be able to forget what I learned at DSK. This is the account of my life thus far.