Girls' Education

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian.  I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears.  I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Malayalam, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Nepali, Khasi, Dogri, Garo and other languages.

Saathiya, directed by Shaad Ali puts a few issues on the table.  One of them is class differences.  Aditya, son of the Om Sehgal a wealthy barrister wants to marry Suhani, who comes from a poor family that lives in flats near a railway line in Mumbai. 

The barrister goes to Suhani’s home to initiate a wedding proposal on behalf of his son Aditya.  He arrives there with an attitude which Suhani’s father Mr. Sharma detects a mile away.  He throws him out and tells him that he might be poor but has raised his daughters Dina and Suhani like princesses.

Mani Ratnam, came up with the story and also wrote the screenplay.  Let’s concentrate on education for girls’ angle for a moment.  Dina is the eldest of the Sharma daughters.  She works in a bank.  Suhani is a medical student, a great source of pride for the family.

Dina breaks the news to her father that Aditya’s parents are coming to see him about a marriage proposal for Suhani.  Suhani’s mother is not pleased at all. 

“Is this why we pawned our jewellery and sent you to college?” she asks her daughter.  Suhani feels it is unfair and points out that she did not invite Aditya to propose to her.

Suhani and Aditya decide to get married secretly in a temple with all their friends in attendance, after their parents’ flare-up.  Suhani tells her husband that as the youngest, she cannot get married first.  They will reveal their secret once Dina, the eldest gets married.

A family comes with a marriage proposal for Dina.  The man who wants to marry her has a younger brother.  His father suggests that both Suhani and Dina should marry his sons.  Suhani’s mother thinks its manna from heaven. 

Suhani thinks it’s like a fabric sale, buy one yard get the second one free.  She reveals her secret that she is already married to Aditya.

It is quite clear that Mani Ratnam, the screenplay writer wanted to concentrate on tradition i.e. younger daughter should get married after the eldest.   My take is that Suhani’s mother kept harping on the sacrifices her father made to send her to medical school.

Mani Ratnam and the director put emphasis on the shame of Suhani marrying Aditya secretly, without family blessings.  My take is that Mr. Sharma and his wife invested on Suhani’s medical studies because they thought it will elevate them from their working class status.  Yes, they knew she would eventually get married, but not so soon.

Educating girls is not an issue in countries like South Africa where basic education is compulsory.  Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark don’t even understand why it is debated.  It is however in some countries where there is a debate between educating boys and girls.

It was an issue in South Africa centuries ago, when the British took the land through force of arms and their powerful navy and installed the British educational system.  Africans held on to their customs.  As time went on, they realised that if you can’t beat them, join them, learn their language and embrace British education.

African girls are loved but the fact of the matter is, they leave home and go to other families.  There is still a reluctance to send girls to universities because parents pay for that, unless there’s a bursary or a loan. 

There is still that nagging question.  What is the point of educating a girl, worse still, educating her to be a doctor, when she will leave home and benefit her husband’s family?

This might be academic in western countries, but it is still a problem in some countries where girls are still regarded as less of a human being, just a machine to produce male children to perpetuate the male dynasty.

Suhani Sharma:  Rani Mukherjee
Aditya Sehgal:  Vivek Oberoi
Dina Sharma:   Sandhya Mridul
Barrister Om Sehgal – Satish Shah
Suhani and Dina’s pa:  Sharat Saxena
Suhani and Dina’s ma:  Tanuja

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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