Abused but undeterred, Rewari girls forced Haryana govt to bend rules, upgrade school
The girls from Gothra village in Rewari claimed they were harassed by boys on way to a neighbouring school to pursue higher studies.gurgaon Updated: May 22, 2017 09:50 IST
Overcoming fear and pressure from family members and fed up with authorities that allegedly remained unmoved despite repeated complaints of sexual harassment, the Rewari girls launched a weeklong agitation that forced the Haryana government to tweak its rules, which are often considered sacrosanct, and upgrade their school.
The girls of Gothra village, 90 km from Gurgaon, had to undergo immense pain, hardship and face difficulties during their 8-day ordeal under the sun, but they did not flinch till victory was achieved.
It was the exemplary resilience shown by the schoolgirls in the face of extreme hardship that alerted the media to their cause and forced authorities in Chandigarh to sit up and take notice. As the broadcast media beamed images of the girls holding their ground in stifling heat and scores took to social media to pledge support to their cause, pressure built on the authorities to act.
On May 10, around 80 girls of Gothra village decided that they would not go to the school in the neighbouring Kanwali village to pursue higher education, claiming they were subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by boys on the way to the school.
“During 20 days of attendance at the school in Kanwali, we faced humiliation and abuse from miscreants and seniors. When we complained to our parents, they refused to help us. They told us to give up studies and stay at home,” Sujata Chauhan(15) a student of class 11, said.
Recalling their harrowing experience during the 20 days they had to attend the school in the neighbouring village, the girls said it could have prompted them to succumb to pressure from their kin and give up studies altogether. But they weren’t to be deterred.
Another student, Pooja Chauhan(15), said, “A group of boys tugged at our dupattas, touched us inappropriately and even threatened us. They made fun of us. Some girls couldn’t take this harassment after a point and broke down. They later decided to quit studies. However, we were determined to fight back.”
The issue of sexual harassment was also raised by the panchayat members with school officials and the sarpanch of Kanwali, but there was no positive outcome.
Roshan Lal (62), a former member of the panchayat, said, “We took the panchayat members to Kanwali and had requested their sarpanch to look into the matter. We also had met the school principal, but to no avail. The girls used to cry and beg for support from the school authorities. We were helpless as the youths were aggressive and even assaulted a few villagers who tried to intervene.”
Faced with this humiliation, the girls decided that going to the neighbouring village in the interest of pursuing higher studies was fraught with risk and it was better to go on a hunger strike to make the authorities aware of their plight and force them to act. “We narrated our ordeal to our parents and teachers, but they were of little help. So we sat on a hunger strike,” Nikita Chauhan, a student of class 11, said.
While girls had hope that the hunger strike would force the authorities to sit up and take notice of their plight, they had no inkling it would take them eight days to act. They claimed they didn’t get much support initially from their families or the society at large. It was only after three or four days that the parents and local panchayat leaders realised how determined the girls were to fight for the cause. Such was their intent that they held their ground even in the face of extreme pressure and hardship.
Slowly but surely, the heat started to take its toll. Two of the protesting girls, battling dehydration, had to be admitted to a hospital. But the thought of giving up the fight never entered their minds. Finally, their family members and locals pledged support to their cause and even willed them on during the agitation. That gave them the belief to fight on.
Suresh Chauhan, the village sarpanch said, “The girls sought our support. Initially, I told them not to sit on a hunger strike as I thought it would be of no use. But later, I joined them and was with them for as long as they sat in protest.”
It was the steely resolve of the students and the commitment to their cause that finally forced the authorities in Chandigarh to relent.
Moments after state education minister Rambilas Sharma announced that the school will be upgraded to class 12, on Wednesday, the girls erupted in joy and entire village joined them in celebration.
Bending its rules, the Haryana government issued a notification on upgrading the school. As per norms, the high school must have at least 150 students in classes 9 and 10 to be upgraded to Class 12. However, the school at Gothra had 70 students in both classes.
The victory of the Gothra girls has also rubbed off on fellow students across Haryana who launched similar agitations to get their schools upgraded. The headmaster of the Gothra school, which has now been upgraded to class 12, said, “We are very happy. However, it will take some time to set up a laboratory and put the required infrastructure in place. This movement and the success at the end of it will ensure a secure future for our girls.”