Going to school in 1928

By Zubeida Mustafa

The elderly woman in the picture above is an. “unusual phenomenon” in Pakistan’s context — if one may describe her so. Devi — that is her name — is a widow who lives in Mithi (Tharparkar) with her sons and their families.

But the reason why I choose Devi to write about is that she is one of those few women of her generation living in rural Sind who have had formal schooling. For Devi was admitted to the Chelhar primary school in 1928 and seven years later she passed the “Vernacular Sindhi Final” — the middle school leaving examination in those days.

Devi, however, does not consider this to be exceptional. “All the girls in our village were sent to school,” she observes. “Hence it was nothing extraordinary that I also studied,” she adds.

Inconceivable .

What she takes pride in is her academic achievement. She was the position holder in the class VQ examination of 1935, the ultimate a girl in a small village in Sind could hope to reach in the 1930s. She can still vividly recall her sense of pride, the struggle and the frustration which followed.

“I so badly wanted to study further but that was out of the question. I had been married a few months before my finals. I was allowed to take my exams but that was the furthest my in-laws were prepared to go. For my husband’s father it was simply inconceivable that his daughter-in-law should live in Hyderabad to attend high school. Chelhar had no high school for girls then,” she says with much emotion.

So Devi, now. 68, had to reconcile herself to her fate. She was not allowed to work either. “That was simply not what was done then. In fact, even today our people disapprove of a woman who works outside the home,” she states simply.

I have described Devi as unusual because she is one of the miniscule number of rural women in Pakistan who have been to school. The female literacy rate in the rural areas is only seven per cent, in Sind it is even lower — five per cent. What is more significant is that Devi went to school more than fifty years ago.

How would one account for that? Devi could not explain it herself. But I could see that with a large Hindu population, Tharparkar’s socio-cultural traditions have not followed the same pattern as that of the predominantly Muslim society. Devi’s kith and kin have a relatively progressive approach to life. They have been sending their girls to school for decades. Both of Devi’s daughters and three daughters-in- law are educated. The men and women have taken more readily to family planning — everyone in Devi’s family is an acceptor. But in some ways Devi’s case proves that literacy and education by themselves do not change people’s outlook or improve the quality of life. Thus in spite of her good academic record, Devi could not think of taking up a job. Even today, her daughters are not working though they have been to school. Her sons are doing well, one of them, Purshotam Das, is a science lecturer in the local college.

Devi could not contribute as much to the health and welfare of her family as one would have expected an educated woman to, because of lack of facilities. Four of her children died in infancy. She gave birth to nine babies because contraceptives and birth control were unheard of in her village when she was a young woman of child bearing age.


But Devi’s education will not go waste. Experts feel that the schooling of women even upto the primary level is enough to provide the base on which the structure can be built. Since education makes communication possible, it facilitates motivation and mobilisation whenever they are undertaken. But what is important is that the basic facilities indispensable for a decent life — health care, water, sewerage, education — must be provided by the community and the state, education, especially that of women, can teach people how to make optimum use of civic facilities with the minimum of wastage. It also trains them to put in the individual effort where that is needed. But it cannot substitute for collective measures.

Another factor to be noted is the thrust and content of the education provided to both girls and boys. It must be progressive and liberal if the social outlookis to be changed! Devi was a progressive in her days but her daughters will have to go further for the world has advanced since the day their mother went to school. But have they progressed? They could study only upto class eight because their village still has no high school for girls!

Source: Dawn 11 July1986