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A School That Challenged The Claustrophobic Orthodoxy of Purdah System For Women

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: "With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed."

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A school that challenged the claustrophobic orthodoxy of 'purdah'.

By Archana Sharma

Located in the heart of the capital of Rajasthan, this all-girls school, started by an erstwhile queen, began a silent revolution in 1943 when the region was steeped in the claustrophobic orthodoxy of the ‘purdah’ system for women.

With an objective to liberate girls from the clutches of purdah system (the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a veil or curtain), the Maharani Gayatri Devi School has been able to realise the dream of the queen after whom the school was named.

The school, which has now completed 75 years of its existence, helped its students become financially independent and step out into the mainstream world with confidence.

Not only has the school liberated girls from the purdah system, graduates of Maharani Gayatri Devi School have made a mark in all streams be it politics, Army, administration services, sports and even art and culture, says Colonel S.S. Sangwan (Retd.), Administrative Officer of the Maharani Gayatri Devi School.

A student of this very school, Meira Kumar, served as MP five times and also served as Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2009-14. Rajnigandha Shekhawat has been a well-known sufi singer; Savitri Candy from 1959 batch became the first lady from Rajasthan to join the Indian Foreign Service in 1967.

Apurvi Chandela (2003 batch) won gold medal in Commonwealth Games while Shagun Chaudhary became the first woman to qualify for Olympics trap shooting event.

Even today, the school stands tall when it comes to grooming talent. Manashvi Katta, Yashasvi Katta and Manvi Gargoti were selected for Juniors IPL Cricket and Vasundra Chandrawat has been selected for International Karate Tournament to be held in 2019 in Bangladesh, Sangwan says.

Started by Rajmata Gayatra Devi, the seeds of the idea of the school were sown when Jaipur’s king Sawai Man Singh brought home Princess Ayesha (formally Gayatri Devi) of Cooch Behar as his bride. The well-educated queen, with her global outlook and exposure, was sad to see girls spending their lives in purdah.

When the king, who was concerned that Jaipur was far behind other states and provinces when it came to girl education, sought advice from her queen to find a solution, she suggested a school for girls. The idea was that once girls go to a school, there will be no purdah in a few years.

The queen herself made door to door visits asking the elites to send their daughters to school since at that time education for girls in the desert state was an unheard of idea. Initially, there were 24 girls on its rolls.

“The parents were apprehensive of sending girls to schools. Hence the queen promised a �purdah’ bus for their girls. This highly curtained bus had a teacher escorting each girl into the waiting bus. The curtains were immediately fastened to the windows,” says Jane Himmeth Singh, a first-batch graduate of the school.

A school girl crossing over the hurdle.

“There was also a curtain between the driver’s cabin and the rest of the bus where the girls, teacher and the maid sat,” she said.

Going down memory lane, Singh said: “We were introduced to a uniform. The senior girls’ uniform was a blue saree with maroon pallu (veil) and blue blouses. The juniors’ uniform was maroon pleated skirts with buttoned down straps, blue blouses, white socks, black buckled shoes and maroon ribbons.

“While taking measurements, the tailor used to stand on other side of the curtain while our teachers took our measurements and called out the inches. Also, the fathers and brothers were not allowed in the school till 1950,” she said.

Till 1976, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls School was the only girls public school in India.

Eventually its uniform evolved to a chic tunic, replete with tie and belt; sports were played in divided skirts which soon became shorts. In winters, there were blazers.

The first principal, Miss Lutter, brought in first Rajasthan Olympics for girls and started literary and debating activities, and drama and photography competitions which exposed girls to the new world.

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“Even after 75 years, the school maintains its rich legacy, perfectly blending the progressive approach and traditional values to ensure the girls have a strong foundation,” Sangwan says.

“Following cosmopolitan approach, our girls sing Christmas carols and learn to celebrate each and every festival without getting biased or inclined to any particular creed. The discipline is yet another perceptive which we focus upon,” he adds.

Laxmi Singh, MGD’s most loved teacher, says: “What makes this school different is the family system being followed here among students. Everyone calls their elders as �jija’, meaning elder sister, which binds the students in a value system.”

Arushi Sharma, a 2009 graduate serving as the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Mumbai, says: “When I had joined the school in 1996, I was a shy, withdrawn and an afraid young girl. When I left the school, I was a boisterous, forthright and fearless young woman being a successful swimmer, debater and a theater artist all at once.”

Captain Navita Kashyap, a 2012 graduate, says: “The education I got outside the classroom, in the sports fields, during the various debates and cultural fests made me realise my calling.”

Archana S. Mankotia, Principal of the school, says: “With a huge historical legacy, the principals from time to time have tried to infuse modernity and progressive attitude among girls which the erstwhile queen had once dreamed.” (IANS)

Next Story

To Exploit Mothers as Labor, North Korea is Reintroducing A Policy of Offering Free Preschool

Many North Koreans view childcare as a necessity, especially in the cities. But the North Korean government has attempted to assert full control over that as well.

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Children attend class at Kyungsang Kindergarten in Pyongyang, North Korea. RFA

 North Korea is reintroducing a policy of offering free preschool classes to its rural citizens over a 10-day period in spring. But sources say the move is not out of benevolence—it is to prevent mothers from using their young children as an excuse to get out of being mobilized as farm labor ahead of the spring planting season.

The program, first introduced in the 1960s, has always been about the mobilization of mothers. In years past, local childcare centers were open to the public between the first and 11th day of the month that coincides with planting season.

Local markets are also closed during the same period. But most of the preschools had been shut down due to lack of funding or as a result of the widespread famine and series of economic crises between 1994 and 1998, now called the March of Suffering.

Estimates have put the death toll from starvation over the four-year period in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.

Local sources told RFA’s Korean Service that the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party has ordered the reopening of the preschools this year, but many of the rural collective farms are having difficulty complying with the order because funding has not been restored.

 

“Ten-day preschool is coming back to a collective farm here in Yongchon county for the first time in 20 years. It will open later this month,” said a source from North Pyongan province.

The source said that the reason for the resumption of the program is to get the mothers of young children to do farm work. But many of the mothers who in the past have used childcare as an excuse to get out of planting were in fact working in family businesses on the sly.

“County authorities have told each town’s party committees to bring back preschools, but since there’s a lack of funds some of the farms are having difficulty with it,” the source said.

“If they are having a hard time getting oil and grease for farming tools, how are they expected to repair the crumbling preschool buildings and remodel their interiors?” said the source.

The source said that despite the difficulty, two of the preschools in the county have managed to reopen, but only because they are the most likely areas to be audited by higher authorities.

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“A high-ranking official at the farms told the workers that if they leave their children at the preschool, there will be deductions from their fall allotment even for the food their children eat [while there,]” the source said. Pixabay

“[Only] the preschools in Yangso-ri and Tongshin-ri [have been restored.],” said the source. Ri denotes a small village or hamlet in Korean.

“Farm laborers are concentrated in those areas and there’s also the major road connecting Pyongyang and Sinuiju running nearby, so the Central Committee can come by to inspect at a moment’s notice.”

But the source also revealed that those two preschools needed alternative funding sources, as the government is not footing the bill.

“The military authorities collected money from the residents and helped the collective farms restore [the preschools,]” said the source.

While in other countries, the announcement of free childcare services would result in jubilation among parents, the source said this was not the case when a town meeting was called in Yangso-ri to inform the people.

“They told the workers that a daycare center and a preschool will be open for a 10-day period, and that they could leave their kids between the ages of 1 and 7 there to focus on their farming work. Then they threatened [the mothers] saying that they plan to document all child related absences. This created a very unfriendly atmosphere,” said the source.

Meanwhile, a source from South Pyongan province said that the sudden order to reopen preschools without funding them is making the collective farms scramble to do so. But unlike the case in North Pyongan, the source said the farms in South Pyongan are instead docking the pay of farm workers.

“Since the government isn’t providing any food or money [for the preschools,] the collective farms decided to deduct a certain amount of ‘operational funds’ from the fall ‘allotment’ of the farm workers. The workers have expressed their opposition to the decision,” said the source.

This deduction will apparently be more for parents who utilize the preschools, according to the source.

“A high-ranking official at the farms told the workers that if they leave their children at the preschool, there will be deductions from their fall allotment even for the food their children eat [while there,]” the source said.

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An RFA article published in 2014 described how in an effort to ‘standardize the state education system’ the regime ordered the immediate closure of all privately run day care facilities, deeming them illegal. Pixabay

“[The workers] are resentful of the authorities, saying that [the policy] is meant to keep young women work in the farms, and to be able to justify treating them as if they were slaves.”

Many North Koreans view childcare as a necessity, especially in the cities. But the North Korean government has attempted to assert full control over that as well.

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An RFA article published in 2014 described how in an effort to ‘standardize the state education system’ the regime ordered the immediate closure of all privately run day care facilities, deeming them illegal.

But in that case as well, the state had been unable to adequately distribute food and fuel to the schools starting in the 1990s, leaving the schools unfit to accommodate small children, according to sources. (RFA)