Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Paying girls to stay in school

Sam (Virendra Singh) retired as one of the top bosses at DuPont. But instead of settling down in a shiny happy American suburb, he returned to Anoopshahr, a small village in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district, to start a girl's school that pays girls to stay in school.  

"I never did social work in my life. I was born in a feudal family and did 'macho' work all my life," says the septuagenarian founder of the Pardada Pardadi vocational school for girls.  

After 35 years in America, Sam realised he was never one of them; he was always conscious of his identity as an Indian.  

In 1984, Sam was in charge of DuPont's Virginia plant. When the Bhopal gas tragedy happened, he had the uneasy feeling that his employers would trust him less as manager of a chemical plant because he was Indian. He couldn't deal with the India that was portrayed in the West -- poor and underdeveloped. He wanted to transform that sense of shame into something productive.  

So when it was time to retire, Sam knew he wanted to go back to the village where, for generations, the women in his family weren't important enough to be mentioned in the family tree; they were invisible wombs to bring male heirs into the family. 

The literacy rate for women in rural Uttar Pradesh is 43%. In a strongly patriarchal society there is little incentive to send girls to school and, in 2000, when Sam started Pardada Pardadi, many girls were marrying at the young age of 13.   More here.

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