Akriti Madan, a graduate from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, is a design entrepreneur. Her studio in Delhi’s Mahipalpur is frequented by people who want innovative and functional design solutions for kennels, garages, storerooms and pantries. Within her social circle, Madan is perceived as someone who is happy to be doing something that she really fancies... but this is far from the truth.
Madan had wanted to continue studies. “I wanted to pursue a postgraduate course in design from Spain. The art and design schools there, more specifically in Madrid and Barcelona, are among the best in the world. Some of their courses have a pronounced emphasis on the technology aspect of design. My designs address a somewhat unconventional space (kennels, garages, storerooms and pantries) and the test of a good design depends not just on the aesthetic worth but on considerations like adequate ventilation, insulation from possible explosives etc. Technology can play a tremendous role in achieving world class designs that are functional and relevant to our climatic conditions.”
Though Madan had secured a seat in Istituto Europeo di Design, her parents were against their daughter studying in a country like Spain with what they called ‘its Bohemian lifestyle.’ “The fact that two other girls from my graduation class were already studying in Barcelona did not convince my otherwise broadminded parents,” she says. They told her she had had her share of freedom at Srishti and became what she wanted to. She was advised to concentrate on her career and in finding a right partner. “Spain will not have too many promising Indian bachelors. You may end up making a wrong choice in terms of a life partner. Had it been the US we could have considered,” her parents had said.
There are many others like Madan in India who have ‘sacrificed’ their dreams because their families wanted them to. Shumona Sarkar, who works in a career counselling firm in Noida, says, “In India, especially in the northern states, there is a lot of social pressure on a girl in terms of getting married at the right age. And this age is usually anywhere between 23 and 27. I speak to many parents of young girls who come to me for career counselling. Many parents I have observed feel that during this age their daughters should be under their close supervision so that they do not end up making wrong choices in terms of life partners. They are open to their daughters pursuing unconventional courses and careers but want this to happen while they stay in their home towns.”
“It is not just the fear of their daughter getting stuck in a bad marriage that deters parents from sending them for studies abroad,” says 26-year-old Sheetal Ramsinghani. “I am a skin specialist and wanted to specialise in cosmetic surgery from a US university. My parents, however, were completely against the idea of my living alone in the US. They felt that I would get into habits like drinking and frequent late nights – things that they strongly disapprove of. Plus, they were also concerned about safety issues,” says Ramsinghani.
So is all hope lost for girls like Madan and Ramsinghani? “Frankly, it is very unfair when parents resist a daughter’s decision to go and study abroad. That’s also because the same set of parents welcome and encourage their sons when they take a similar decision. Interestingly, when it comes to choosing universities and courses abroad, girls are much more focused than boys in terms of their research,” says Sarkar.
Things can change and are gradually and slowly changing. There are some girls who have gone abroad to pursue their studies and careers after convincing their conservative families. “However, in my experience, I have seen that parents are usually more accommodating of such decisions if the course of study is in a conventional field such as medicine, engineering, management or law.
For courses in design, wildlife science, photography and others, the resistance is usually stiffer. Since these fields do not translate to ready earning avenues, parents feel that the investment of going abroad is not justified in the first place. Hence securing a scholarship really helps in such cases,” she elaborates.