To get a sense of how far Virendra (Sam) Singh has come and how far he still has to go, it might help to begin this story with his family tree.
Names spanning eight generations of these former zamindars (feudal landlords) are painted on a wall inside a family compound in this village, which is surrounded by acres and acres of sugar cane fields and is 3.5km away from the nearest main road.
Names, that is, if you happened to be a lucky male descendant. For, some five generations of Singh’s thakur family tree on the wall, starting with the very first known ancestor, simply list an anonymous Shrimati (Mrs.) when it comes to the women in the family.
Roti-driven model: Virendra (Sam) Singh stands among students during lunchtime at Pardada Pardadi School in Anoopshahr, UP . (Harikrishna Katragadda)
“The pundits didn’t bother to record the women’s names,” says the 68-year-old Singh, whose grandfather had put up the genealogy on the wall, and whose daughter Renu’s insistence led to names of some women being added, starting with Singh’s generation.
Welcome to a little-noticed corner of India, in the Bulandshahr district of western Uttar Pradesh, where women come last, if at all, despite their chief minister being a woman. Here, just a three-hour drive from New Delhi, female literacy is still only around 41%, well below India’s low 54.16% national average.
Mothers around here, when asked about how many children they have, still count only their boys. Macho, out-of-school male teenagers laze around on sagging cots in the sun while their mothers and sisters, head and face typically covered by a traditional ghunghat (veil), collect grass for the cattle that produce just enough milk for families to supplement their largely tiny, leased, albeit fertile, farmland.
And, then, on Malakpur road, just outside Anoopshahr town, there is the quaintly named Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES), Singh’s work-in-progress labour of love, which has hit upon a creative way to try and not just educate the girls of these villages, but, in doing so, turn them into a generation of women that won’t silently acquiesce to being nameless entries in countless family trees.
“No amount of pity was going to solve the problem,” says Singh. “It is a business problem that only business can solve.”
And Singh has made it his business to do so. On the face of it, PPES has a rather simple, monetary pitch to the parents of these girls.
Send your daughter to PPES’ free, all-girls vocational school every day, where, in addition to academics, she is also taught skills such as sewing and embroidery. She will get three meals a day, textbooks and school uniforms, and, depending on the distance from the school, a bicycle. And the real carrot: for every day she attends school, PPES will deposit Rs10 in a bank account that is opened in the girl’s name. The promise: Rs40,000 in each girl’s name by the time she finishes Class XII and is eligible to receive the money.
If this amount doesn’t seem significant, here is a sobering fact. Singh points out that the average income in many of the district’s 196 villages is just about Rs600 a month for many households that he is targeting.
“We impart knowledge, but we are a roti-driven model,” says Singh. “We want to develop socially and financially independent, future mothers.”
Read the full story http://www.livemint.com/2007/12/30230813/Virendra-Sam-Singh–Turning.html