Unbelievable but true! A special school in Madhya Pradesh actually trains women to become ideal, obedient and submissive wives and daughters-in-law. Though it has many takers, it has drawn the ire of social activists and women's organisations.
Founded in 1987, the Manju Sanskar Kendra in Bhopal teaches young women the art of being good wives by serving their husbands and in-laws, and thereby preventing splits in the family.
"The primary aim of the Kendra is to prevent Indian families from breaking up under the pressures it faces nowadays," says Bhau Ayaldas Hemnani, the founder and director of the rather unique school.
It offers a three-month course that stresses on the importance of "Indian culture" and the woman adjusting to her new family after marriage. While students spend the first month learning Sikh and Hindu scriptures, the second month has lessons in naturopathy and the third is entirely dedicated to domestic life.
"We teach women how to serve their husbands and win laurels and how to behave with in-laws. We also tell them to be tolerant while adjusting to their new home," Hemnani told IANS.
Women's rights activists and groups have termed the very idea of the school "ridiculous", anti-women and regressive. They have, in fact, suggested that schools now be opened to train ideal husbands too.
"We don't have any objection if the centre starts teaching men to be an ideal husband, father or son. It would be a step towards building a balanced society. Why only train girls to be submissive?" asks Sandhya Shelly, state president of the All India Democratic Women's Association.
Chandna Arora of the All India Women's Council, says: "Thousands of women are doused with kerosene and set on fire by their greedy husbands and their families. Most of these dowry-related deaths are passed off as kitchen accidents. How will they resist dowry or other domestic abuse?"
Contrary to one's expectations, the centre is very popular with over 4,500 having graduated from it so far.
"My Bhabhi (sister-in-law) is considered an ideal daughter-in-law in my family, and she motivated me to join the classes here," says Ragini, a student of the school who is to wed next month.
Says Sudha, another student: "The school not only teaches us to be polite and obedient towards our in-laws and the husband but also teaches us cooking, sewing and daily prayers without any fees.
"It tells us that these are the basic essentials an Indian girl must learn before marriage, regardless of whether she is a working woman or chooses to be a housewife."
Hemnani believes the education imparted by his school will go a long way in preserving the Indian joint family system - now being fast replaced by nuclear families, especially in metros.
"The joint family will remain intact if you imbibe Indian sanskar (values) from our great religious books," he stresses.
The students not only listen to lectures instilled with religious and marital wisdom but are also taught devotional songs and practice household chores.
Shelly, however, maintains that girls should instead be taught to resist greed and violence on the part of in-laws. "Official figures show that the number of women killed by their in-laws over dowry is rising by the day, despite it being illegal," she points out.
An ideal Indian wife, according to Hemani, should have four virtues - obedience, a healthy lifestyle, be loved by her husband and be attached to the household.
"A new bride is generally expected to win the hearts of all by her work and submission and we prepare her for that," asserts the director.
And it sure seems to have brainwashed many young minds. Said Bandana Raizada: "I'm confident that after this course, I shall not commit any mistake in my in-laws' house."
Asha Mishra, another women's activist, feels that instilling servility and submissiveness among women would not help in holding the family together.
Though rights groups are of the view that it would only make women more vulnerable to torture and abuse - both mental and physical - Hemani believes otherwise.
"If I teach girls to be a good wife, it doesn't mean that I am telling them to bear atrocities!" he remarked.