Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The girls of Gajner and their path.

When I first arrived in Gajner, I was deeply fascinated by the number of beautiful and interesting girls in this rural Rajasthani village. From the very beginning, my aim was to get to know them to understand a part of their world. I wanted to interact with them to comprehend their interests and dreams to explore their role within the community. 

After I have lived with these girls and women for 6 months and sharing countless chats, dances, chais and dinners, I began to learn some small but significant aspects of their lives. What intrigues me most about their roles are the distinct steps they tend to follow at defining junctures of their lives. Their religion, castes and social status are generally irrelevant in determining whether or not they pass through these stages. Whereas timing and methods may vary, the path remains more or less the same and is characterised by 3 phases:

1 Carefree schoolgirl

2 Responsible young woman at marriageable age

3 Respected wife and mother

In line with my observations, the first phase is the period that occurs from childhood until adolescent, which is attained between 12-15 years. In this period of their lives, little girls go to school and roam freely around the village by bicycle, crossing main roads and visiting the bazaar. They are not required to adhere to a specific dress code and permitted to play outdoors, interacting with other girls (and occasionally with boys) from other neighbourhoods and communities. 

Girls at the end of the school day in Gajner

Girls celebrating Holi with the interns in Gajner

The onset of the second stage comes with puberty when girls start to be viewed as potential brides, generally between the ages 15-18. In this stage, their freedom is slowly reduced. Their access to the outdoors decreases and they are no longer allowed to pass through the main streets of the village, other than to go to school or attend tuition classes. Simultaneously, their role within the house increases and they are required to manage housework and contribute to household tasks. Assuming a modest and responsible attitude within the public sphere is essential in preparation for marriage. Their attire in this phase is restricted to wearing tradition Punjabi suits and they are expected to behave appropriately in the public eye.

Young girls carrying wood to their homes

The third stage comes when a girl is arranged to be married to a suitable partner, usually between 18-20 years of age. In this stage, the young women leave their family home in order to move into that of their husband’s as the new daughter-in-law of the family. Their role in the public sphere undergoes another change. They wear saris and anklets to distinguish them as married women. They learn to respect the rules of their new home and family and assume a domestic role as wives and soon to be mothers. 

Mothers and daughters in Gajner village

To conclude, my observations have led me to identify these stages in the lives of these women who continuously occupy various roles in the community. At first, a young bride entering a new family may find that her agency is limited and her freedoms are curtailed but as time passes and she progresses further into this stage it must be noted that her importance and self-confidence increase. As they become mothers, they assume higher position of control within the house and gain an important role not only in daily decision-making processes but also in the children’s education and the transmission of values. 

Costanza Burstin - Italy
Women's Empowerment Project Manager and Centre Coordinator in Gajner 

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