Equality begins at home

30 April 2020

Not too long ago when people could still gather in person, India celebrated Women’s Day.

Equality begins at home
“A passion for justice, the quest for equality, a respect for tolerance, a dedication to human dignity -- these are universal human values which are broadly shared across divisions of class, race, language, faith and geography.” -His Highness the Aga Khan

Not too long ago when people could still gather in person, India celebrated Women’s Day.

Pramilash Reddy opened the day’s program at his school - Platinum Jubilee High School (PJHS) in Warangal, Telangana - with a simple yet poignant observation. As a 4-year-old, he would see his sister contributing to household work, and assumed that when he was older he would do exactly as she did. “I am 14 now, but interestingly, I am not doing those works, but my sister is still helping my mother.”

Pramilash made this remark to students and teachers gathered to celebrate great women heroes. They honoured many iconic women, including Indira Gandhi, India’s first woman Prime Minister, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, and Rani Laxmibai, an Indian ruler who stood up against British rule at the age of 30.  But Pramilash said that in his life the most important hero was his mother. Isn’t this the case for everybody?

As part of the celebration, fellow student, Shanika, dressed up as the revolutionary leader Chakali Aillamma, one of the first women to fight victoriously against zamindars for the rights of her fellow peasant farmers. In the process, says Shanika, Aillamma lost her husband, but that did not stop her in her struggle. “Only for her family she could not leave many families”.

At the Aga Khan School in Chitravad, students spent their art class making cards for the special women in their lives. Iqra Kotadia, who is in Grade 4 and had dressed as Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian born woman to go to outer space, wrote on the card she made for her mother: God could not be everywhere, so he created mother. “The card I made for my mother—it’s an insignificant thing. My mother does everything for me.”

Many women around the world have been homemakers for their family, and their contributions in that role have not always been appreciated. Siddharth, also a of PJHS Warangal, appeared as the Hindi poet Ramnaresh Tripathi and recited a verse that so struck the audience that they wanted to hear it again. His translation of the verse:

The light of day passed in decorating dreams
The sleep of the night passed to put the baby to sleep
A house that does not even bear my nameplate
All my years went in building that house.

“Things have changed from the past,” said Ayaan a class 9 student from PJHS Warangal. “Nowadays in some cases women are more powerful than men. Many women are in the political system and prime ministers and presidents.”
His vice-principal, Srilatha Laajvanthi who has experienced what it’s like to be a professional woman, pointed out that the workplace is not always an even playing field.

“[Between the] past and present there are many differences, but still we need to improve,” said Shanika. “Some girls are not getting education. They are relegated to doing household work.”

Recognising that these challenges, the theme for this year’s celebration across AKES, India was “each for equal.”
“Many of our students don’t understand or realize these inequities until it is spoken about, or unless there is an opportunity for them to talk about it,” said Srilatha. “So I think school is a good platform for students to think and empathize.”

In Aga Khan School, Sidhpur, the male staff arranged a ceremony to appreciate each female member with a flower and a standing ovation. Then they surprised the women by serving a meal they had cooked themselves.

AKS Sidhpur’s vice principal Hari Krishnan said that they wanted to offer a gesture of practical care towards their women staff for that day. “We chopped the onions, we fried the bhajiyas, we did everything ourselves,” he said. “It was such an atmosphere, I wish we could do this more often,” said AKS Sidhpur teacher Nikhil Shukla.

Days later, his wish came partially true in a strange way. A lockdown was imposed in India to combat Covid-19, forcing everyone to stay home. It’s an opportunity for men to take a share in the housework that’s too often relegated to women. It’s also made every day an opportunity to make our homemakers feel special.

Author: Naushad Ali Husein

Photos (top to bottom):
Collage of AKES,I staff adopting the universal Each for Equal pose
The Each for Equal pose by teachers of Platinum Jubilee High School, Warangal